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ASU alum fashions a new path

ASU alumnus has designs on the fashion world — and on @PHXFashionWeek.
October 10, 2016

Mechanical engineer finds inspiration in design, Native American culture; will show his collection at Phoenix Fashion Week

There’s really not a polite way to say this — Loren Aragon’s house is a mess.

Not far from the entrance there are several racks of handmade garments, raw fabrics and dress forms. Sewing machines, pattern paper, thread, pincushions, measuring devices, cutting tools and two draft tables dominate what was once the dining and living areas. 

His Maricopa residence has been this way for the past year.

That’s about the time he decided to turn his fashion-design hobby into a full-time vocation.

Which might come as a surprise: The Arizona State University alumnus received his degree in mechanical engineering in 2004, but the call of the creative drew him back to the arts.

“My study and practice as a mechanical engineer further fuels my artistic passion and abilities as an artist,” said Aragon, who is from the Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico. Sixty miles west of Albuquerque, the pueblo is known for its pottery and long ancestral line of artists.

“My work is a result of a combination of my artistic vision and technological discipline.”

In June, Aragon was one of 15 artists selected by Phoenix Fashion Week to attend its Emerging Designer Bootcamp. Over a four-month period, he learned the ins and outs of the fashion business, including branding, messaging, margins, profits, team building and public relations.

“We have about 40 different things we teach them in those four months, and then they are tested in real time,” said Brian Hill, executive director of Phoenix Fashion Week. “Loren has great designs, which is the baseline for everything.”

This week Aragon will unveil his spring/summer 2017 collection at the Talking Stick Resort in the East Valley, where hundreds of retailers and an estimated 6,000 people will see a dozen of his new designs. Fashion Week takes place Oct. 13-15.

Aragon’s company is called ACONAV, which represents the Acoma and Navajo tribes. The latter is in tribute to his wife and business partner, Valentina, who hails from the Navajo Nation.

The brand’s mission is to represent part of the Native American culture in high-end fashion, with the idea of evoking the empowerment of the female spirit. Their work is resonating with many in the fashion world.

“ACONAV clothing is beyond description and is different from anything else out there,” said Taté Walker, editor of Phoenix-based Native Peoples Magazine. “The passion, the care and culture infused within each piece are prevalent in every stitch.”

Two years ago Aragon and his wife left good-paying corporate jobs to devote their full-time efforts to ACONAV.

“There’s a lot of 20-hour days and all-nighters,” said Valentina, who runs the business-operations side while her husband is the creative force. “We haven’t hosted any dinner parties in a while because there’s nowhere to sit.”

That devotion caught the attention of Hill, who has become one of Aragon’s biggest cheerleaders.

“He’s all in,” Hill said of Aragon. “Loren should be doing this full-time because he’s that talented. He’s bright, focused and he has the talent to get to the top.”

Aragon has spent the past two decades trying to get to the top. In high school and college he started a greeting-card company, designing one-off cards and selling them at craft shows for pocket money and tuition. He was also gifted mechanically and pursued an ASU degree in mechanical engineering.

His artistic side was pushed aside for several years as he pursued a successful career testing vehicles and designing military seats and training weapons — pushed aside, that is, until an August 2008 visit to the Santa Fe Indian Market. He was amazed by the amount of contemporary Native American art for sale and sensed a movement was afoot.

“Native American art is traditionally basket weaving, rugs, pottery and silversmith jewelry,” Aragon said. “When I walked around I discovered graphics, painting, photography and sculpture. People were taking their culture and putting it on their art in a lot of different ways. I wanted to find a way to do that, too.”

Aragon was inspired by that visit and renewed his dedication to his once-dormant company. He branched out into illustration, jewelry and sculpting, and he even created a line of street wear. That eventually morphed into women’s couture evening wear when he created a traditional dress with a modern twist.

The polychrome-patterned dress, which he still keeps at home and loans out for special occasions, won first place at the Santa Fe Indian Market in 2013. Since then, orders for his work steadily came in through street fairs, trade shows and his website.

Most of Aragon’s collections display the influences of the pottery designs of the Acoma people with traditional elements as highlights to modern looks. He uses mostly high-end silks and cotton sateens because “they give off a symbol of elegance.”

Aragon hopes Phoenix Fashion Week will be the launching pad for brand success, as each piece of clothing is “an extension of my life, love, creativity and prayers.”

His hope is to eventually have a brick-and-mortar store with a studio, where patrons can buy made-to-order bridal wear, evening attire and cocktail dresses.

Valentina says that idea is appealing on many levels.

“I’d like to host a dinner party again in my lifetime,” she said. “For once I’d like to wake up and not see a dress form or rack of clothes in my entryway.”

 

 

Phoenix Fashion Week

What: A series of runway shows at the leading fashion-industry event in the Southwest.

When: Oct. 13-15. The ACONAV show will be at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 15.

Where: Talking Stick Resort, 9800 Talking Stick Way, Salt River Reservation (near Scottsdale).

Details: phoenixfashionweek.com.

 

Top photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Reporter , ASU Now

480-727-5176

 
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50 props, 5 types of stage blood, 300 sound/light cues in "Feathers and Teeth."
Student-produced retro comedy-thriller opens Oct. 28 at ASU.
October 11, 2016

ASU student play has less than 2 weeks before opening night; crew hard at work at set design, fight choreography and more

Editor's note: This is the third installment of a semester-long series following the production of "Feathers and Teeth" from casting call to wrap party. Look for the next story soon.

It has been four weeks since the actors on “Feathers and Teeth” received their scripts.

Every night since then, they’ve been working hard to get down their dialogue, coordinate their movements and hit their marks.

Behind the scenes, another group has been working equally hard to get the play ready: the 26-member crew whose numbers quintuple the small cast.

“There’s a stereotype that abounds regarding directors where they are sitting in a canvas chair and barking orders at the actors,” said Ricky Araiza, the director of “Feathers and Teeth,”“Feathers and Teeth” is a retro comedy-thriller. The plot follows Chris, a 13-year-old who suspects foul play when her father hooks up with an attractive home-care nurse two months after the death of her mother, Ellie. Set in a Rust Belt factory town in 1978, the play combines the supernatural with classic rock, family dysfunction and gremlin-like creatures that roam the house’s crawl space. an upcoming play that will debut in Tempe on Oct. 28. Araiza is a third-year master of fine arts student in Arizona State University’s School of Film, Dance and TheatreThe School of Film, Dance and Theatre is a unit of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.; the play will serve as the equivalent of his master’s thesis.

“The best metaphor I can use is that a director is the captain of a ship. A captain doesn’t do everything on the boat, but he has to know how to delegate to get everyone on the same path and heading in the right direction.”

The ship has about two weeks before it sets sail. If Araiza is nervous, he isn’t showing it to his crew, a mixture of stage veterans and rookies who are working on their first production.

They’ll cover design and construction of the sets, sound and lighting, special effects, props, makeup, wardrobe, choreography and publicity.

“It really does take a village to put on a production,” said Jamie MacPherson, a 28-year-old MFA student in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre and the play’s fight choreographer.

MacPherson, who has worked on close to 25 stage productions, said the play has “five major moments of violence.” She said for every minute of action there’s about an hour of blocking and preparation.

MacPherson looks at three things before choreographing a fight: What does the stage look like? What does the script call for, and what are the actor’s instincts when they pull a punch for the first time?

“I also have to know what kind of costume will they be wearing, and if it includes jewelry,” MacPherson said. “And wigs are always a fun problem.”

Costume designer Andres Marin and makeup artist Macaley Fields said they’re having a blast working together on getting a look and feel for the era — the flashy and flamboyant ’70s. Marin did a photo search of the decade to research color patterns and prints, while Fields leafed through old copies of “Cosmopolitan.”

“What better magazine to consult for hair, style and makeup trends at that time?” said Fields, a design major working on her first stage production.

Technical director Anthony Lee said although he’s having fun, he’s under intense deadline pressure. This is also the 19-year-old sophomore’s first experience with an official stage production. He and about 20 other students from THP 231: Scenic Construction will build nine pieces of furniture — three wall units, five hanging windows and a mobile crawl space that can be wheeled on and off stage.

Lee will receive a lot of his cues from set designer Rhea Solanki, a 20-year-old junior majoring in theater, production and design. Solanki said playwright Charise Castro Smith’s writing is visual, and she wants the set to look like a combination of “Gremlins” and “The Brady Bunch.”

Because of the limited space where the play will take place,Nelson Fine Arts Center, Room 133. designing the set had its challenges, she said.

“Because there are classes that take place in this room during the week, the set had to be compact enough to be stored away and at the same time would work for the play,” Solanki said.

Despite its proclamation as an intimate show, “Feathers and Teeth” will feature more than 50 props, dozens of pieces of furniture, approximately 300 sound and lighting cues, five different types of stage blood and a few special effects that Araiza won’t reveal until opening night.

“Ensemble is very important to me,” said Araiza. “Yes, I came in with a vision, but it’s not my piece of art.

“These are the folks that really bring the image of the play together.”

 

Read more

Part 1: Anything goes at ‘Feathers and Teeth’ casting call” 

Part 2:Building chemistry among a new cast

 

Top photo: Technical director Anthony Lee tacks the facing on one of the three 8-foot-tall walls for the staging for "Feathers and Teeth" Oct. 11 on the Tempe campus. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Reporter , ASU Now

480-727-5176