Nan Blassingame, a Native American fashion designer, had only three weeks to prepare for her first fashion show.
It wasn’t enough time, even though she’d told the show head she could manage it. Blassingame began calling friends for whom she’d recently made dresses.
“You’re going to come walk in my show,” Blassingame told them. “I made you that dress, you’re coming to walk in the show.”
The week of the 2018 Austin Intercultural Fashion Show, Blassingame found herself hurriedly making more dresses — formal dresses, at that. Then a friend, who’d sent along the show’s Facebook event page, found out about Blassingame’s designs walking the runway.
That’s when Blassingame learned she’d entered her first show kind of on accident.
“She’s like, ‘What? You’re going to be in that show? As a designer?’ And I’m like, ‘Well, you sent me the link. I thought you wanted me to do this,'” Blassingame said. “And she’s like, I sent you the link so that we can go watch the show. Like, ‘Check this out. We should go watch this.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going to be in it.'”
Blassingame became the first Native American designer to star in the Intercultural Fashion Show, and afterward, she landed her first-ever interview thanks to London-based magazine Art Today.
A year of firsts
For those reasons, 2018 became a year of firsts, but Blassingame had sewn, beaded and designed for many years prior. As a child of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes in Hammon, Oklahoma, Blassingame watched her aunt make jingle dresses and picked up on her skills.
These dresses, used for the female Native American jingle dance, would become Blassingame’s favorite thing to make.
“Jingle dresses is still my number one,” Blassingame said. “That’s my whole reason for ever wanting to sew, ever to learn to sew. It was jingle dresses. Last year was my record. I made 22.”
Jingle dresses also became a staple of Blassingame’s fashion design career when she began selling them around 2012. She said her first dress sold in just 20 minutes.
“I had ladies in my inbox saying, ‘Don’t post any more dresses until you show me first,'” Blassingame said. “So I showed this lady two dresses, and she bought them both. And that’s how I got started. My life’s been crazy ever since.”
Shortly after her first show in Austin, Native American fashion line Red Berry Woman invited Blassingame to participate in their North Dakota show. Then, in fall 2019, Blassingame presented her work at New York Fashion Week with hiTechMODA as the company’s first Native designer.
“It goes by so fast because you’re on the runway maybe seven minutes,” Blassingame said. “But we went to Times Square still dressed, took pictures in Times Square. And those were more memorable than the fashion show because those pictures went more viral.”
Most recently, she crafted a jingle dress for Miss North Dakota from the fall 2022 Miss USA Pageant. Other pieces have ended up on international movie sets.
Connecting the Native community
In addition to her work as a fashion designer, Blassingame serves as programs director for Great Promise for American Indians. The organization hosts the annual Austin Powwow and works to bring the city’s Native community together through events and education.
Blassingame first learned about Great Promise after moving to Austin in 2003. She felt disconnected from her heritage in a place where she didn’t see many other Natives.
“I just felt so lost a lot of the time,” Blassingame said. “So finally, when I started doing the culture classes is when I finally started reconnecting with everybody, and the first class they wanted me to teach was jingle dress. And that’s like making a wedding dress on your first day of sewing.”
Blassingame continues to teach, which is another passion of hers. Last month, she taught the basics of applique designs at a Great Promise potluck. She said she loves seeing the smile on her student’s faces when they accomplish a piece, and she always wants to pass down her skills.
“Quill work was our first form of decor before we traded for the beads, and it was a dying art,” Blassingame said. “Hardly anyone knew how to do it, so it was like once that’s gone, when the elders pass, it passes with them. So, I don’t want to see that. I want to see my teachings passed down from generation to generation.”
This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: fashion designer went from Austin to NYFW;elm:context_link;itc:0″ class=”link “>How this Native American fashion designer went from Austin to NYFW
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