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The American Southwest Is Fashion's New Go-To Source for Aesthetic Inspiration

The solitude, serenity and sprawling landscapes of places like New Mexico, Utah and Nevada are calling models, designers, photographers and influencers in droves.

There's no occasion quite like the Fourth of July to celebrate all things American. Here at Fashionista, we'll be spending the week examining the fashion industry in our own backyard, from the state of U.S. apparel manufacturing to American-born models on the rise. You can follow all of our coverage here.

Relying on the American southwest and all of its cultural cornerstones, like the romanticized cowboys and indigenous peoples, is nothing new for fashion. Lately, the region has attracted even more attention than usual — not strictly from the fashion world, but from the lifestyle space at large. Beauty brands and influencers have drawn aesthetic inspiration and made pilgrimages, respectively, to destinations outside of America's coastal cities which are often left out of the societal conversation.

While events like Coachella and Burning Man have long attracted people to the deserts of California and Nevada, there's now a shift away from the commercialism of a big-name music festival, with its monstrous stages, brand activation tents and bright lights. Instead, the solitude and serenity of places like Santa Fe, New Mexico and its sprawling landscapes are calling — and models, photographers and influencers are flocking there in droves.

Santa Fe is but one hot spot in the American Southwest. It's where the mother of American modernism Georgia O'Keeffe chose to spend decades of her life and where she'd eventually die. O'Keeffe was well known for her juxtaposing paintings of Manhattan and New Mexico, but she also adds to the lexicon composing the current sartorial moment.

Her clothes — most of which she made herself and signaled a personal modesty — were displayed as part of a recent exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum. As The New Yorker notes, Calvin Klein used O'Keeffe's New Mexico home as the subject of advertisements, just as Vogue would do with a Charlize Theron fashion editorial. Christian Dior's Creative Director Maria Grazia Chiuri has also paid tribute to O'Keefe recently, citing her as a reference for her debut collection for the French house. (Later, Dior under Chiuri would lean more heavily into looks from the American Southwest for Dior Resort 2018, with a runway show set mountainside in Calabasas.)

While that collection debuted in May 2017, there have been a handful of other references to the primary character in tales of the American Southwest — the cowboy — in fashion in the year since. Isabel Marant for Fall 2018, Louis Vuitton Resort 2019 and a slew of other European designers have included items like cowboy hats, bolo ties and steel-toed boots to express their admiration for the "romantic and lost way of life" that images of the American cowboy conjure. Italian label DSquared2 even cast Bella Hadid, Kendall Jenner and more as retro cowgirls posting up in a sleazy highway motel in its Fall 2018 ad campaign, based on the collection that included Western and rodeo references aplenty.

Tanya Dukes, a jewelry editor and stylist, has noticed the trend's "primed" reemergence in the accessories market, too. It's not just turquoise either: Silver, coral, malachite, and opal pieces are commonly used in pieces the Southwest inspires. Designers like Anna Sheffield and Mociun have hinted at southwestern flavor with a touch of luxury thanks to the inclusion of diamonds in their work.

"Southwest-inspired accessories signal a certain pastoral, unpretentious and archetypically American style," Dukes tells Fashionista in an email. "There's been a lot of nostalgia lately and when it comes to the conversation of the U.S., its politics and identity. That can’t help but prompt creatives to revisit some of the foundational signposts of American culture."

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It's worth noting that when discussing American Southwest influences in fashion, a conversation often overlooked is that about the appropriation of indigenous cultures in things like textiles, prints and accessories. Certainly, designers relying on Native American culture would be better off to recognize the indigenous peoples' nuances beyond the Navajo print.

Where fashion goes, influencers follow. While sponsored trips to exotic beaches like Ibiza, Tulum and Turks and Caicos probably won't disappear from the Instagram Explore page anytime soon, places like Amangiri in Utah, a resort owned by the Aman company which has luxury properties across the world, have emerged. Aman also owns the Amangani luxury ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming where Kanye West has been known to stay. (Aman declined to comment for this story.) Marianna Hewitt, an influencer and co-founder of the beauty product Summer Fridays, recently visited Amangiri as well, commenting on the need for a trip to practice self-care in the secluded setting. 

Renee Chao, who runs the Gothamista skincare and beauty blog, also visited Amangiri recently, with the K-beauty brand Peach and Lily. Of the trip, Chao says she's not surprised that a brand would pick Amangiri to host an event. "Quite frankly, it's trending right now. I think with the way things work [currently], as soon as something is on Instagram, this whole sort of #goals generation movement means that if a group of influencers like the Kardashians go, everyone wants to follow suit," Chao says. "When I posted my picture at Antelope Canyon, I had so many comments from people who thought I was in the Glossier store in LA." (The Glossier store to which Chao refers is one that opened in spring 2018, modeled after the desert as an "escape" from Los Angeles.)

"Arguably the most exciting detail of the store is Glossier Canyon, an immersive, custom-designed room inspired by Arizona's Antelope Canyon — complete with day-to-night lighting and real-life desert sounds," Glossier's director of retail and offline experiences Melanie Masarin told Architectural Digest. "Aside from being a great selfie opportunity, the room gives visitors a private moment to be transported into an entirely new environment while experiencing Glossier LA."

Brands like Glossier are now capitalizing on the desert revival, but there's been one standalone symbol of fashion's long standing love affair with the American southwest. In Valentine, Texas, there's a one-room museum in the middle of Highway 90 called Prada Marfa.

Erected in 2005 about 26 miles northwest of Marfa, Texas, the faux Prada store (which artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset designed with permission from Miuccia Prada and the company) is modeled after any one of the brand's stores using materials like the adobe you'd find at O'Keeffe's Ghost Ranch home. More than a decade since its debut, it's still a destination for the Instagram set.

"I think that the desert in the Instagram age is a hyper-photogenic, beautiful place," says Lisa Przystup, a fashion copywriter who spent a decade in Tucson and has well explored the American Southwest. "You can't take a bad picture of it."

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