An Interview With: Nan Blassingame, Fashion Designer and Festival Director in Texas

An honoured peep into the world of Native American heritage fashion and cultural festivals in the US…

Nan’s strong, indigenous collection featured in  the Austin Intercultural Fashion Show earlier this month.  She is the first Native American ever to have entered a collection in the competition.

Recently, Art Today were thrilled to get in touch with bold, Native American, fledgling Fashion Designer and Cultural Fundraiser – Nan Blassingame.  She is the first ever Native American to have entered the Austin Intercultural Fashion Show, and her collection was received to rave reviews.

Bio:-

Nan’s designs are faithful to her Native American roots (she is part of the Cheyenne tribe), using traditional patterns and materials to full effect in her ready-to-wear and more-traditional festival pieces.  This is furthered by the items she chooses to stock in her accessories store – ‘Native American Notions’ – in Cedar Park, Texas – which maintain the cultural theme.  Amazingly, Nan also has time to take ownership of her role as Program Director for Great Promise for American Indians, who curate The Austin Powwow and American Indian Heritage Festival every year.

Interview:-

  1. Can you tell us more about your entry into the Intercultural Fashion Show in Austin?  My goal was to bring more awareness to​ the​ Native American Community in Austin. What better way to represent them not only as a designer but to bring in the Native American community to represent you as your models in the Austin Intercultural Fashion Show. Our culture is a very important part of the Past, Present, and Future. 
  2. What inspired your collection?   It was rooted to be an all-traditional entry but I pushed myself to create a modern twist that showed a range in formality.
  3. An outfit from Nan’s collection. Art Today loves the bold, contemporary palette combined with heritage detailing…

    What did it feel like being the first Native American to enter the show?   The feeling was overwhelming. I keep saying it feels like my wedding day. It was so different from Grand Entry at a powwow.

  4. What other fashion shows have you collaborated in previously?   Not only was I the first Native American in the Intercultural fashion show but, this was my first fashion show ever. 
  5. How did you get into fashion design?   I started when I was 14 in Miss Powers Home Economics class, and by the time I was in my early 20s my aunt, Leann Starr, showed me how to make a Jingle Dress. Her exact words were, “I am going to show you one time and that’s it.”. So I learned in that one session. Of course many mistakes were made through the years. I was the only niece she taught before her passing in 2006. My main focus is on Powwow style dance outfits.

    One of Nan’s beloved ‘Jingle Dresses’ (Medicine Dress). We can’t help but feel it would be at home on a Balmain catwalk…

  6. Which fabrics do you enjoy working with the most?   Well, being from Texas and it being so hot, I use a lot of Cotton fabrics. I love fabrics that have a southwest print to them also. 
  7. Which was your favourite design from your collection?   The Jingle Dresses are always my favorite. They are my most favorite dresses to make. That is the style I have danced in since I was 6 years old. They are considered a medicine dress. My record year was in 2016 when I made 18 in that year.
  8. You managed to prepare in only 3 weeks – what was that like?   I started out with the mindset if I didn’t finish an outfit that I wouldn’t stress out. But towards the end I already had the models and didn’t want to disappoint anyone. I am so thankful to Shalini Komarla for giving a chance to not only be the first Native American entry but to enter in my first show.
  9. Your business is called ‘Native American Notions’ – can you tell us more about that?   My middle name is Nan and that’s what I go by most of the time so Native American Notions – N.A.N. fits perfect. It’s my facebook page where I post everything I make. I have also included an album for my husband’s work.
  10. Who is your favourite fashion designer?   I was most inspired by Coco Chanel. The trends she set were so inspiring and they continue today.
  11. If you could collaborate with any designer, who would that be and why?   I would love to collaborate with B. Yellowtail. She is setting the pace for Native American designers. She is staying true to who she is but bringing Native culture and designs to a wider audience. 
  12. If you could invite a fashion designer/s to dinner, who would you choose?   I would invite B. Yellowtail, Della Bighair-Stump, & Norma Baker Flying Horse. They are all great inspirational Native American designers. I would love to hear all about their journeys in person.

    Bethany Yellowtail – Nan’s chosen fashion collaborator and fantasy dinner guest. She is the creator of indigenous clothing line B. Yellowtail – reflecting her Apsaalooke (Crow) & Tsetsehestahese & So’taeo’o (Northern Cheyenne) tribal heritage.

  13. You are also Program Director for The Austin Powwow and American Indian Heritage Festival – what does the festival involve?   I am the Program Director for Great Promise for American Indians 501(c)(3). The Austin Powwow and American Indian Heritage Festival is the largest event that we host. We have the powwow inside, and Heritage stage, traditional food, art and craft vendors outside. We also get together at a once a month potluck to stay connected with one another. We practice singing, dancing, and I teach sewing or beading craft. I love my job with the organization. 
  14. Model Lianna Navarro in one of Nan’s more tribal designs.

    What is it like putting each festival together?   It takes a lot of work​, ​year round planning and lots of team work and  volunteers to pull off a event that size. We generate 10-15 thousand spectators, dancers, and singers. This year the powwow is November 3, 2018. you can always find more info www.austinpowwow.net.

  15. How important is it for Native Americans to have such a platform?   It is so important to set the platform for the next generation and to honor our ancestors. I really want the youth to see you can do anything you set your heart to do. Another group Society of Native Nations brought their youth to witness the Fashion show. You could see how excited they were to be there. That’s what I want to see. 
  16. What is your favourite part of the festival?   There is so much going on during the day, that it would be difficult to just choose one area. But seeing the smiling faces of return powwow goers or the first-timers is always exciting. Seeing the new outfits I know some of the dancers probably stayed up all night making. Trust me, I have done this many times. Your best work is in a time crunch.
  17. A dance competitor at the Gathering of Nations Powwow.

    Can you tell us more about your own tribe’s heritage?   I am Cheyenne of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes of Oklahoma. I grew up in Hammon, Oklahoma. It is located 20 miles east of the Washita Battlefield of 1868. We originally came from Minnesota then broke off into 2 bands (Northern Cheyenne of Montana and Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho of Oklahoma).

  18. Where would you like your fashion design career to go next?   I’m fine with how it’s going now. It makes me so happy to see my work at powwows. Seeing the dancers out the​re​ dancing – so happy to have a new dress​,​ shirt​, beadwork or whatever it may be. It​ is such a good feeling​ to bring out a new piece for the first time​.
  19. If you could enter any fashion show in the world, which one would it be and why?   Paris Fashion week would be a dream come true for any designer.
  20. What would you like your legacy to be?   My legacy… I would love to inspire people that anyone can do this. I truly believe we are all good at some form of art. A dream come true for me would be to have my own Native makeup line with Native names and such. That’s what I would love to be known for…

We couldn’t agree more, Nan!  We are all good at some form of art!  You’ve just got to find your niche…

Art Today wishes Nan Blassingame every success in the future with her fashion and festival endeavours.  A truly noble cause… and – who knows?  We could be looking at the next Fenty make-up line…  Watch this space!

 

[Credits:  Feature Image – Nan Blassingame (right, with husband Cody) by Louie Ayuma; Nan Blassingame; Joel Navarro; Facebook – @Nativeamericannotions; byellowtail.com; pinterest.com; austinpowwow.net; crazycrow.com]

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