Image: Jewelry Artist Leah Prada Harrison. Photographer: Brandon Soder – @brandonsoder.
While on my quest for artisanal products that reflect the best of the Southwestern aesthetic, I encountered jewelry artist Leah Prada Harrison. Born in the beautiful Sangre de Cristo Mountains of Northern New Mexico, Leah is a multi-generational New Mexican of Hispanic, Tewa, and Caucasian lineage.
Her line is called Yoté Jewelry
Yoté (pronounced Yo-Teh), is short for coyote, a slang term for “mutt” that Leah uses to describe her mixed heritage as well as her jewelry. Her creations are firmly rooted in traditional New Mexican design, but enriched by the various cultural aesthetics that have influenced the American Southwest over time. Her pieces feel ancient yet modern, bold yet spiritual, and are hand fabricated with the utmost attention to quality and detail. Additionally, Leah has the blessing of the Zia Pueblo to sell Zia jewelry, and gives back to the community annually.
Leah, what is it that makes your designs so unique?
I enjoy creating ornate pieces that stand out and prefer for the pieces to look aged, like they have a story to tell. Most of what inspires my designs is folklore. Sometimes my pieces are literal representations of elements in the stories, other times they are suggested via color, texture, or shapes. I refer to my jewelry as being tangible folklore.
What can you tell us about your creative process?
I believe in maintaining integrity in the creative process – staying true to your own design sense, not intentionally mimicking other artists or copying work, and asking for permission to use other people’s material, be it intellectual or tangible. I believe in community – using creativity as a vehicle to give back to the individuals and entities that inspire us and play important roles within our communities. It’s important to be inclusive and supportive of other creatives. I also believe in honoring one another’s differences as those differences are what make up the complex and beautiful web that is community. My hopes are that the people who invest in my work can feel the intention that goes into every piece and wear those values daily, with pride.
I was first drawn to your jewelry for its unique yet distinctly southwestern beauty. However, I’m also impressed by your work on photo shoots with other creatives. The fashion styling is brilliant in its simple, rugged elegance. How do you choose the artists with whom you collaborate? What is the aesthetic connection?
In general, I choose the artists that I work with based on who they are as individuals. Naturally the work they produce is a huge part, but I choose projects based on who I feel I can work well with and in a fun, organic way. I have been lucky that many of the people I work with regularly were people who initiated contact with me for a project of their own. In participating, I was able to get a sense of them as people and artists, which opened the door to all sorts of fun projects and collaborations.
As my portfolio and following builds, I continue to seek out collaborations with artists who command respect not only through the work they produce, but with how they walk in the world. There isn’t really a specific aesthetic that draws me as much as the energy they produce and how that resonates with what I am creating. I have just been lucky enough that their work compliments what I do really well.
Attention to one’s personal appearance can, at some point, be seen as frivolous or narcissistic. Your jewelry and fashion styling evokes an almost spiritual quality. What do you emphasize or value with regard to how you present yourself? Any guiding principles?
I believe that the way we present and adorn ourselves is very important for a spectrum of reasons. Not only does it influence how we are received in everyday life, it affects our energy and how we feel about ourselves. That’s not to say you have to spend three hours getting ready every morning, it’s more about putting intention into your self-care and how you prepare for your day. Dress as the person you wish to manifest. Highlight the best parts of your personality. Dress for your body type, and be confident in yourself.
How does “fashion” contrast with “personal style”?
Fashion is momentary. It is a trend or a fad that comes and goes. Being consumed by fashion means existing in a comparison mode. In contrast, style is forever. It is a physical representation of our internal qualities and is as particular as the individual adorned in it. It is not a fickle, momentary occurrence that burns out with the next season. It is a much more intentional and sustainable concept.
Style doesn’t require staying on board with trends, celebrities, or popular culture. Style allows you to shop second hand, make your own clothing, jewelry, and accessories without being overly concerned with what other people are interested in. It is another form of creativity that doesn’t have to follow the same rules as fashion. Style is a wild card. In short, style is as unique as your own fingerprints, whereas fashion is a wasteful, seasonal occurrence with little to no emotional investment.
So, how does your style look in terms of an authentic, everyday Southwestern wardrobe?
In general, the best way to achieve an authentic Southwestern look is to keep it classic and functional. Like many people in the Southwest, I work with horses, work with my hands, and spend a lot of time out in the elements. An authentic Southwestern look has to do with lifestyle and function. Will James is a big inspiration for me across the board. Otherwise, I think the 1950’s are a nice reference point.
To break my everyday wardrobe down, here are the basics:
Two or three pairs of well fitting, high-waist denim jeans. (When you’re trying to buck hay or tie your laces, there’s nothing worse than having to worry about your butt crack sneaking out.) I personally like Levi’s and Wranglers. I’m a huge fan of denim!
Linen pants and high-waist shorts. Both are really nice for hot summers.
Solid, neutral button-up shirts in cotton, flannel, or denim, based on the climate. When it comes to the arid heat of the Southwest, a long sleeve button-up, cotton shirt will save your ass. The fabric will provide some shade and protection from the sun, but it will also breathe. (The Southwestern climate is rugged. Be prepared!)
I love men’s XL vintage western shirts. Because I wear high-waist bottoms, these shirts work great with the waist tied and sleeves rolled up; it’s a comfortable, cute look. Thrift stores in the Southwest are also usually saturated with them.
Basic, blank tees, all in neutral colors.
Seasonally appropriate, with flannel lining when it’s chilly.
One bad-ass wool jacket or heavy coat because, during winter, that’s mostly what you’ll see.
Having a well-fitting, seasonally appropriate Western hat that works well with your features is a must. It took me nearly a decade to find a hat I liked, and I had to go to a custom hatter. Straw is best when it’s hot but, if felt is your thing, choose a light color. As the weather cools, I always transition to a felt hat.
My go-to shoes are high quality boots. I love the way they look, but mostly they are the best option for my lifestyle. I prefer to spend more on boots that will last me a lifetime; they save money in the long haul because you can always have them resoled and repaired. Fashion is one of the biggest factors in our environmental predicament. Creating more waste so I can save some money is not an option.
As for brands, I prefer Frye because they have classic styles and are high quality. For cowboy boots, I prefer Ariat because they are designed by equestrians and also have a more classic look. When I say classic, I mean authentic Western style like my grandfather used to wear. None of this bizarre, flashy, tacky, sparkly, fluorescent-colored stuff that you find in Western stores today!
The Red Wing Heritage Collection for women has killer shoes across the board. I also enjoy more rugged wing- tip shoes.
Two or three belts that match my boots.
I prefer neutral tones for everything I own because it allows you to dress up or down as much as needed. I tend to always avoid prints (aside from stripes) because I prefer to use jewelry as a means of dressing up looks.
FABRICS AND TEXTURES:
I lean towards natural fibers like denim, wool, cotton, and linen for hot summers.
SILHOUETTES & STYLES:
I love classic silhouettes, like 50’s dresses, high-waist bottoms, Western shirts, broom skirts, and maxi dresses.
I like to dress like Audrey Hepburn, Katherine Hepburn, or Marilyn Monroe, but accessorize like Frida Kahlo. With neutral colors and classic silhouettes in my wardrobe, I can accessorize as much or as little as is appropriate for the occasion.
The overall intention with every piece of clothing I own is that I can mix and match for a variety of different looks and outfits without needing an entire walk in closet. With a solid selection of basics, high quality accessories, and a good selection of regionally-produced jewelry, you can achieve just about any Southwestern look under the sun and (bonus!) you won’t look like a complete dork doing it.
The Zia Symbol: Supporting the Zia Pueblo
Every October, in conjunction with Indigenous People’s Day, Yoté Jewelry honors the origins, history, and meaning of the Zia Symbol by donating 15% of every Zia piece sold back to the Zia Pueblo’s Education & Scholarship Fund.
Where to Find Yoté Jewelry:
You can purchase Leah Prada Harrison’s Yoté Jewelry online at https://yotejewelry.com/.
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