Arizona had a presence in more ways than one at this year’s Tony Awards. Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, executive director at ASU Gammage and ASUs’ vice president for Cultural Affairs, is Arizona’s only Tony voter and attended the 73rd Tony Awards on June 9 held at Radio City Music Hall in New York.
Loren Aragon, CEO and designer of Phoenix-based ACONAV, a Native American fashion brand, created Jennings-Roggensack’s stunning red and black gown she wore to the ceremony on June 9.
Aragon was approached by Jennings-Roggensack’s team in May about creating a one-of-a-kind dress for the Tony Awards. The designer said ACONOV jumped at the opportunity to create a dress for Colleen given her leadership at ASU, her involvement with the Tonys, as Arizona’s only Tony voter and as a chance to represent Arizona, ASU and Native fashion.
Aragon created ACONAV in 2008 as a greeting card company, but his interests in art and fashion led him to create the fashion brand under the same name. Aragon said ACONAV is a combination of the first three letters of he and his wife’s cultural names; his wife is Navajo and he is Acoma Pueblo. His unique designs earned him the title Couture Designer of the Year in 2018 through Phoenix Fashion Week.
“Initially, Colleen was interested in a couple different dresses from my collections…she liked two very different designs, and I had a sketch and a design in mind that would incorporate both of those two designs. After showing her what I had in mind for her, that was what made it happen, she loved what she saw,” Aragon said. “Jennings-Roggensack and her team already knew what our brand represented and that we are a representation of the strength and empowerment of women. We also wanted to voice our existence as far as Native fashion and Native people art and that we are a thriving community, and we have the same right to represent and showcase our work on a lot of these different stages. She was really inspired by our story and that everything we were going to put into this design had some meaning,” Aragon said.
The dress is constructed out of silk taffeta and Japanese silk for the underlining of the dress, along with hand-laid textiling and unique applique work on the dress design and pattern, complete with a black shawl. “What Colleen really loved about the shawl was it had this kind of superhero element to it and kind of elevated her in the dress and the overall message behind it,” Aragon said. A few of Aragon’s signature details in the dress include its pottery designs, which Aragon said influence his work, and some lattice designs.
“She really loved the red color,” Aragon said of Jennings-Roggensack’s preferences for the dress. “It kind of seemed like the buzz of the Tonys this year and we saw that over the weekend. There were lots of red dresses and we’re glad to be a part of that,” Aragon said.
The meaning behind the dress is in its colors. “For us, the red color is an homage to ancestry and the color red has also been an awareness to the missing and murdered indigenous women movement, which has been happening in the last few years and is something we stand behind the support,” Aragon said.
The dress took a little over a month to complete, and Aragon revealed the dress to Jennings-Roggensack about a week before she left for New York: her reaction was better than he could have imagined. “She was already excited that she was going to get something custom from us and something with so much meaning behind it, but her reaction to it was something more and I think she definitely expressed her gratitude. She also felt in her words, that this was something beyond her, something bigger than her, and that was really appreciated because that’s exactly what we want in an ACONAV creation, is to have people feel that,” Aragon said.
The designer said creating the dress was an opportunity to represent Native fashion on such a large stage. “Hopefully this dress can overall bring more awareness to the idea that Native fashion is growing; it’s making its mark on the greater fashion industry and we have a place in the history of fashion. We’ve been around for centuries, and fashion has been a part of our culture for years,” Aragon said.
“Unfortunately we don’t get outside of our native communities as much as we would like to, but we hope that we can set that path for other native designers to follow. If we want to be represented respectfully, we have to reach out to people and educate them about our culture.
We have every right to be able to represent ourselves on the same stages as Dior and Versace.”
The dress stood out at the Tony Awards. Aragon said Jennings-Roggensack and her team shared the positive feedback about the dress as they enjoyed the evening.
“We received a lot of good feedback and people recognizing that there was some type of meaning to what she was wearing and that’s what we hope for,” Aragon said. “We hope that people see that this is not just a garment to show off, but that it has some meaning behind it and who better to have represent us and showcase that and tell our story than Colleen herself. She did a great job in promoting that for us and with us.”