Visualize a figure covered entirely in a metallic sheen, sporting black patent leather combat boots, and a chrome morion helmet, like some portentous apocalyptic avatar, fends off invisible enemies with a large sword. It’s a modern-day depiction of the 1680 Pueblo Revolt as imagined by its groundbreaking creator: Virgil Ortiz.
In a large studio on the historic Cochiti Pueblo, about 45 minutes west of Santa Fe, New Mexico, a figure covered entirely in metallic sheen, sporting black patent leather combat boots and a chrome morion helmet, like some portentous apocalyptic avatar, fends off invisible enemies with a large sword. It’s a modern-day depiction of the 1680 Pueblo Revolt as imagined by its groundbreaking creator: Native American artist, potter, fashion designer and photographer Virgil Ortiz.
The Aeronauts’ theatrical costumes are part of Ortiz’s ReVOlution collection. Similar ready-to-wear pieces are planned for the future.
The youngest of six children who grew up on the Pueblo, Ortiz recalls a childhood in which storytelling, collecting clay, gathering wild plants and producing pottery were part of everyday life. His grandmother Laurencita Herrera and his mother Seferina Ortiz were renowned Pueblo potters who taught him the craft.
“I was born into a family of artists,” says Ortiz. “My grandmother and mother worked with clay, and my dad made drums on a daily basis. Being inspired by my family, I picked up their work ethics and created my own approach.
“In the Cochiti culture, turkeys are noted for moving around so energetically and unpredictably that they’re almost impossible to nab,” he explains. “So, the track mark is a reminder to myself to constantly keep everyone guessing about my next designs and to keep everything surprising and groundbreaking.”
While his projects are varied, Ortiz is first and foremost a potter. As King notes, “Virgil takes inspiration not just from his pottery, but from the clay itself. This is a cultural component that is deeply imbued in all his art. A similar design may appear on a jar, then on a piece of clothing, and then in a graphic. Each item is different but there is a thread of continuity that always leads back to the history and people of Cochiti Pueblo.”
Ortiz agrees with that assessment. “Clay is the core of all my creations,” he says. “My work centers on preserving traditional Cochiti culture and art forms. It’s important to recognize that Pueblo communities are very much alive and have a level of vitality that speaks to generations of strength, persistence, brilliance and thriving energy.”
They never forced me; they only encouraged me. It is with their support that I was able to develop my own signature style and storytelling with my art.”
In 2002, Ortiz was invited to work with fashion design icon Donna Karan. “Being mentored by Donna was an incredible opportunity,” he says. “I was able to see first-hand the entire process from conceptual ideas, sketches, design, cut and sew, fittings, runway, showroom presentation, marketing and sales. It was this experience that inspired and motivated me to create my own clothing line.”
“The geometric and traditional Cochiti pottery images are bold yet simple and present the perfect combination for fabric design and textiles,” says Ortiz, who began incorporating them into his fashion work.
Embracing imagery that combines apocalyptic themes, science fiction and historic Pueblo culture, Ortiz produces laser-cut leather jackets, taffeta skirts, cashmere sweaters and silk scarves. Each piece is branded with his “signature”—an elegant, stylized turkey-track X.