At early Celebrations in the 1980s, Dorothy Grant’s clothing designs were already a crowd favorite.
Grant remembers women asking her about the clothes she was wearing, not knowing that Grant had designed the clothing herself.
“Women were pulling me into the bathroom wondering where I got my clothes from,” Grant recalled, “and then buying it off my back.”
More than 30 years later, Grant was again a crowd favorite at Celebration, as her designs in Friday night’s Native Fashion Show at Centennial Hall earned a roaring applause from the standing-room-only crowd. Grant, a Haida who was raised in Ketchikan, now lives in Canada and has earned international acclaim for her artwork.
Grant was one of more than a dozen designers who were represented in Friday’s fashion show, which moved to Centennial Hall this year to accommodate more spectators. Prior to the show, a line stretched through the lobby and out the doors of the event center as people waited to get in.
For about half an hour, they watched, applauded, whooped, whistled and cheered as the show — directed by Amber-Dawn Bear Robe from Siksika Nation in Alberta, Canada — brought dozens of models across the stage in everything from wedding dresses to leggings.
Jimena Ramirez, a 10-year-old Juneau resident who wants to be a model, took the stage wearing an outfit designed by Crystal Worl. Ramirez, who is of Tlingit and Mexican descent, still wore her outfit and makeup out in the lobby after the show.
“I like the clothes,” Ramirez said with a smile, “and it’s just fun to strut down the runway and show the designs people have made. It’s really fun.”
One of the highlights of the show was a dress that came all the way from Maine — though the inspiration for it is from even farther away than that.
Donna Decontie-Brown and Jason Brown make up the designer duo Decontie & Brown, who design their jewelry and clothing with inspiration from their Penobscot tribal heritage. They were invited to Celebration’s first-ever fashion show in 2016, but weren’t able to make it. This year, they made sure not to miss it.
The first dress that came out during their section of the show was what Brown calls the “Star People Gown.” Golden fabric and a long fringe gave the dress what Brown called an “intergalactic” look. It’s based on the legend of Star People, which he says is the name some indigenous people give to beings from outer space.
Wearing the dress was former Miss Alaska USA Alyssa London, who waved the golden fringe from side to side as she strode across the stage. Brown said he and Decontie-Brown designed the dress looking at Star People in an optimistic way.
“It’s kind of like, for us, she came to bless,” Brown said, “with light and love and good positive energy.”
That positive energy was evident to many people in the room, from the stage to the audience. Grant said she thought the atmosphere was “electric,” and 16-year-old Tlingit model Shyann Nannauck said it was “heart-pounding” to be on the stage.
Nannauck, visiting from Seattle, joined on as a model just a couple hours before the show, she said. Nannauck, who wore a black and teal dress from designer Violet Dawn Ahmie, said her adrenaline was spiking during the show but she was relieved to have so many other models alongside her.
Grant, who was still out of breath half an hour after the show from the chaos and action of it all, said she was “jazzed” at the boisterous audience response to her designs. She was even more elated about the fact that her models told her what a good time they had.
“The fulfillment is that I made a lot of people happy and proud, proud to be beautiful and march their stuff,” Grant said. “It’s not just about my clothing, it’s about that sense of who you are and loving your space.”
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.