Hazel Stabler is ready to make her national debut – and in the process, make a little history.
Both as a Kansan.
And, as a Native American.
Stabler, who grew up in Emporia, is of Yaqui and Objibwe heritage.
She has lived in Wichita for the past five years.
Stabler’s Native American-inspired clothing has been selected to be featured in September at New York Fashion Week. More specifically, on Sept. 7, during a Sustainability Show that will feature designers from around the world.
How many Kansans have ever shown their clothing lines at the prestigious event?
“It is very, very, very unusual,” said retired Wichita fashion reporter Bonnie Bing who annually covered the event for 32 years. “I’m trying to think of another one, and I can’t think of anybody. That’s amazing.”
Sure, Bing said, there was maybe that one other designer who had some Kansas connections – Katherine Brosnahan who attended St. Teresa’s Academy in Kansas City and went on to the University of Kansas. She later became known as Kate Spade.
But no others.
Stabler has been designing clothes for the past 35 years.
She’s spent her career traveling and sharing her Native American culture through the traditional and contemporary designs she creates.
Deeply committed to her heritage, Stabler and her family attend powwows. They dance and have active roles in the community, such as at the Mid-America All-Indian Center in Wichita.
Her husband, Hollis Stabler, is a hereditary chief of the Omaha.
“I started when I had kids,” Stabler said. “When your whole family dances you have to either learn to make it or have family members sew for you. I decided to learn.
“I never took Home-Economics in school. I never took sewing. My mother sewed for me, so I really didn’t have to learn.”
Until she had kids. And then, she taught herself how to sew.
By then, she had moved to Boston and had three children.
Harvard pays attention
It was at Harvard that she had her first fashion show. A conference of Native American chieftans were meeting at Harvard. She was asked to show them her designs.
“I was like, umm, I’m not a designer. And I was told, ‘We’ve been watching you and your kids everywhere you go. Wherever you go, you guys are always dressed so nice.’ I said I’d try, and I had three months to put a show together. It turned out pretty well.”
Indeed, she began making both traditional and contemporary Native-inspired clothing full time.
“I consider myself fashion forward. I have always dressed outside the box and accessorized over the top,” Stabler said. “I am wearing things that everyone else thinks are crazy until it comes into style. And then, they begin wearing them.”
After the Harvard show proved so successful, her design work took off. She was invited to various native functions, powwows, meetings and conferences.
Stabler also lived in Oklahoma.
She is now the mother of five children and six grandchildren. When she lived in Lafayette, La., she earned her bachelor’s degree in Human Resources, Apparel Design and Merchandising.
Some of her work has been displayed in tribal museums across the nation.
In 1995, she did a fashion show in New Orleans when the Disney Movie, “Pocahontas” debuted.
While there, Stabler met actress Irene Bedard, the voice of Pocahontas in the movie, and they became friends. Bedard has worn some of Stabler’s designs.
Stabler also became friends with Pete Sands, who composes the music for Kevin Costner’s hit television show, “Yellowstone.” Sands will be providing the music for Stabler’s show in September.
Native couture work
Stabler researches clothing worn traditionally by Native tribes. She also does couture work, which is more one-of-a-kind designs.
“In the contemporary clothes, I use various mediums that are used in traditional clothing,” Stabler said. “I have feathers – dyed chicken feathers called hackles. I use them to embellish my dresses and headpieces. I do all the jewelry. I make all of it, I bead. I have fringe that is hand-dyed that is on a silk dupioni evening gown, that has elk teeth around the neck. And then, I make lambskin gloves to match. I try to make everything significant so you can tell it is native.”
But her clothing, she says, is not just for Native people.
“Anybody can wear my contemporary clothes and evening clothes,” she said. “They are for all sizes. It is for everyone.”
For the New York show, Stabler said she applied online and sent pictures of her work.
She was notified last week by email that her work entitled “Buffalo Hunt Camp Arrow” collection had been accepted for the show.
“We are looking forward to a phenomenal experience with you on our runway,” the email from the hiTechMODA Fashion Show read. The show will be held at the National Geographic Encounter in the heart of Times Square in Manhattan.
“It is a juried show. They have to see your work before they even consider you,” Stabler said.
She is taking 15 pieces of her designs to New York. It will be modeled by three of her daughters and some Wichitans who modeled her pieces last year for the ICT Native American Gala Fashion Show at the Mid-America All-Indian Center.
Only one other Native American designer was selected for this year’s show – Nan Blassingame, a Cheyenne and Arapaho designer from Hammon, Okla.
Stabler hopes that some of her designs may be picked up by distributors who will be attending the show.
“I want to pinch myself,” she said. “My husband didn’t know what Fashion Week was and so, when he would tell people, they were like, ‘Wow! That’s an honor!’ He’d go, ‘Really?’ He then looked it up (on the internet) and said, ‘Wow! THAT IS a Big Deal!’
And I’m like, ‘Yea, it IS a big deal.”