Indigenous designs

Big Hair-Stump blesses Parisian fashion show with custom couture
Thursday, February 28, 2019

Photo by Luella N. Brien

Della Big Hair-Stump, owner of Designs by Della, displays custom designed satin for her business. She is set to show her work Friday at a fashion show at Eiffel Tower in Paris.

Photo by Luella N. Brien

At Della Big Hair-Stump’s work area sit samples of Designs by Della clothing. On the left is her “Donna” dress that won second place at Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair and Market competition; to the center is one of her manufactured items; and to the right is a custom-printed velvet and white satin dress called “Andrea” after her daughter, who will be modeling the piece in Paris.

Local fashion designer Della Big Hair-Stump dreamed of showing her work in Paris, but when the opportunity presented itself earlier this year she almost refused.

“I got notice about the show in January,” Big Hair-Stump, owner of Designs by Della, said. “I prayed about it and said, ‘If I’m meant to go, Lord, everything will fall into place,’ then slept on it.”

Everything fell into place, Big Hair-Stump and her family traveled to Paris this week to show her work at the International Indigenous Fashion Week events in Paris.

Big Hair-Stump said she used to tell her husband, Andrew, that she was going to show her work in Tokyo, Milan and Dubai. She even was invited to show in Milan last year, she said.

“I was invited to a show in Milan. I told my husband I wasn’t ready yet, but I’ve always wanted to show in Paris,” she said. “This time it just felt right, but getting there has been hard work.”

Friday’s fashion show at International Indigenous Fashion Week is scheduled to take place in the Gustave Salon at the Eiffel Tower.

Big Hair-Stump said through her work she is trying to teach her family there is a whole world outside of the Crow Reservation and Montana.

Last year, she took her couture to her first big fashion event, “Native Fashion in the City,” in Denver. Then she went to the Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair and Market competition, where she won second place in the Personal Attire class for her “Donna” dress, a red trade wool gown with tulle, beadwork and satin applique. She also won a Judges Choice award for her “Modern Bia” gown, which featured a hand-painted rawhide parfleche-style bodice and a red trade wool gown adorned with numerous imitation elk teeth.

“I like to tell my kids, ‘Look what mom can do. I’m not just staying at home and sewing, look where it can take you,’” she said.

Big-Hair Stump, who has no formal training as a seamstress or designer, creates each couture piece by hand, from the initial design process to its assembly. A piece can take three weeks to three months to complete.

“Growing up, I watched my grandma and grandpa and my parents. My grandmother would be sewing and my grandfather would be doing feather work,” she said. “I started doing these shows and people would say, ‘I like your art,’ or ‘Your art is so beautiful,’ and I would think to myself, ‘Art? This is just everyday stuff for us.’”

The whole process, she said, is rooted in prayer.

“I say a prayer and smudge the work area and the fabric, and when I’m done I will pray and smudge the finished project,” she said. “The people who purchase items from me help me. They help me pay my bills, or pay for this or that. They help me, so, in some way, I want to return the blessing to them.”

Big Hair-Stump’s business is a 2019 Montana Indian Equity Fund Grant winner. Her $14,000 grant purchased a new sewing machine, fabric and sewing supplies. It also helped pay for her application fee and other costs associated with the Paris show.

She set up a fundraising page online, where 27 people donated more than $2,000 to help with travel expenses.

“I want to thank everyone who donated and everyone who believes in me,” she said.

She also gives credit to her mother, who also helped with a large portion of the expenses.

“Della is an innovator; she is extremely artistic and creative,” said Olivia Williamson, owner of Lady Pompadour Beadwork and Designs, a 2016 Montana Indian Equity Fund grantee.

Williamson and Big Hair-Stump have been selling their merchandise as vendors around the region for years.

About a year ago, Big Hair-Stump requested beaded items from Williamson for the show during the “Native Fashion in the City” event in Denver.

“That’s where it all started,” Williamson said. “Ever since then I’ve been collaborating with her.”

By the end of the summer, Williamson’s jewelry was featured on Designs by Della models.

“She always brings her best, but she stays humble,” Williamson said. “She steps outside the box and she always takes it to a new level.”

Carrie Moran Mc-Cleary, who owns Plain’s Soul, also makes beaded jewelry items that Big Hair-Stump’s models feature in runway shows.

“What I love about Della is she is so humble and quiet,” said Moran Mc-Cleary, a 2018 Montana Indian Equity Fund grantee.

“She is always lifting up and boosting other artists,” she said. “I’m so proud of her. We are lucky to have our little group that gets along and supports each other.”

Big Hair-Stump’s goals going into 2019 include finishing prom, graduation and wedding gown orders, which spiked after one of her prom dresses was featured in an April 2018 feature in Teen Vogue. She also has been featured on news websites like the United Kingdom’s The Independent, and the U.S. website www.insider.com, among others.

“I want to finish all these orders,” Big Hair-Stump said. “I still have to do dishes, and dinner and even home repairs.”

A typical day for Big Hair-Stump includes sewing for six to eight hours, depending on the housework that needs to get done.

“My youngest will come home from school and ask me if I’ve eaten,” she said. “When I’m really in the zone, all I do is drink tea all day.”

The Designs by Della website includes manufactured T-shirts, skirts, scarves, tote bags and backpacks all designed by Big Hair-Stump and handmade couture items.

Big Hair-Stump said she makes a concerted effort to price her online manufactured items affordably.

“I want to be able to offer something that my own people can purchase,” she said. “I don’t want everything to be so expensive that no one can buy it.”

This year, Big Hair-Stump wants to increase offerings on the website to incorporate plus sizes and more menswear, including suits.

Her design elements are heavily influenced by her Crow culture and identity, but Big-Hair Stump wants to add other elements to her work.

“I really want to expand to more contemporary designs that are not specifically Apsaalooke,” she said.

Big Hair-Stump said she started sewing to create regalia for herself, then for her family, so Crow fashion elements are deeply ingrained in her style, but experimenting with new elements adds a new dimension to her process. A process, she said, she will likely be changing and perfecting for years to come.

“I’ve always wanted to do this, I like what I do,” Big Hair-Stump said. “It takes me places.”

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