GREAT FALLS — In the moments before her models stepped out onto the glowing blue and white stage, Belinda Bullshoe froze. Six of her creations were about to be presented before the global elite of fashion design.
Standing backstage at New York’s Crowne Plaza hotel, the clothing designer from Montana’s Blackfeet Indian Reservation held her breath for a moment.
“This is it,” Bullshoe said quietly to herself. “All this worry and whatever or not — this is it. My creations are ready to hit the runway.”
Six weeks earlier Bullshoe wasn’t certain any of her designs would make it across the catwalk at Fashion Week. Four years ago she hadn’t designed a single dress. Only her extended family and a few close friends had any idea Bullshoe was stretching her talents beyond colorful blankets and leg warmers to create something the New York fashion world might take an interest in.
“I was so nervous,” Bullshoe said of the seconds before her designs hit the runway. “I was standing there and my heart was just beating. All I could think of was everyone who helped support me.”
Even with the endorsement of a well-connected East Coast patron and the financial support of dozens of enthusiastic well-wishers, Belinda Bullshoe barely made it to New York Fashion Week.
Following her first two major fashion show presentations — one in Kamloops, British Columbia, the other in Edmonton, Alberta — Bullshoe received an invitation to show her designs at the Couture Fashion Week, one of the premier events bundled into the four-day extravaganza known as New York Fashion Week.
Getting an invitation to present your creations before alongside globally recognized designers such as Ralph Lauren and Pierre Cardin is a distinguished compliment, but it comes with a price. No one pays you to present at fashion week. You pay them for the privilege. Add to that the cost of travel, lodgings, food — not to mention the time and expense of creating a whole new line of fashions — and it’s an expensive proposition, especially for a small-town designer.
It wasn’t until the final possible moment that Bullshoe was certain she had raised enough funds to transport herself, her husband Rod, her mother and six hurriedly designed dresses to the downtown Manhattan venue. Waking at 2:30 a.m. Feb. 8, Bullshoe and her family skirted one of the worst Montana snowstorms in a decade to catch their flight out of Great Falls. All six of her newly tailored dresses were packed tightly in a carry-on suitcase.
“I was not going to take a chance on putting them underneath the plane,” she said of her determination to avoid a lost baggage catastrophe.
Twelve hours later, and cruising in on nearly zero sleep, the Bullshoe family arrived in New York.
After settling in for the night, Belinda found the Crowne Plaza Hotel and set about selecting her models for the following day’s show. Right behind her was the winter storm that had chased her flight across the northern plains and into New York.
Three-foot snowdrifts in Browning are likely to slow things down — in Manhattan, they shut things down. On the day of the big event, drift-filled streets stopped one of Bullshoe’s models from arriving on time. With less than 45 minutes before the curtain was scheduled to rise on her show, Bullshoe was forced to select a new model and make final adjustments to a previously fitted dress.
At that moment the whole backstage seemed to be in a state of barely contained chaos: hair stylists rolling up curls or ironing them into place, make-up artists spraying on foundation and sketching eye shadow, models dressing and undressing, personal assistants scurrying to the beck and call of harried designers — everywhere a swirl of last-minute fashion panic.
“People were just racing around,” Bullshoe said. “I couldn’t even imagine how they were able to pull the show off.”
A sold-out crowd of close to 750 people waited in the Crowne Plaza auditorium. Bullshoe was the first designer scheduled to present her designs at the show.
As the music rose to announce the beginning of the show, a production assistant latched on to Bullshoe to make sure everyone was in place for the opening. He made it clear that after all six of Bullshoe’s models had completed their turn across the u-shaped stage, Bullshoe should be ready to take her own walk before the assembled fashionistas.
Bullshoe turned to her mother and told her she was going to make the walk arm-in-arm with her.
“She was like, ‘What? I ain’t going out on that runway,'” Bullshoe said of her mother’s response.
But it was already decided. Less than 10 minutes after the presentation began, it was the two Bullshoe women’s turn to make the walk.
“I couldn’t really see anything,” Belinda Bullshoe said of her entry into the New York fashion world. “When I came out there were some bright lights on us and the media was right in front of us. I could see a bunch of flashes at me. All I could do was wave my hand, but I couldn’t really see anybody. People were just waving back at me and clapping their hands. It was such an amazing moment.”
“Right there is where I realized the dream had become a reality,” she said. Standing there on that runway I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, here it is. I’m finally here, I did it.'”
“I was trying so hard not to cry,” she added. “All I could think was don’t cry, don’t cry … please Belinda don’t cry.”
Just two days later and the Bullshoe family was back in Montana. As of yet there have been no multimillion dollar design contracts offered up to Belinda, but orders for her wedding and prom dress designs have spiked.
Bullshoe’s dresses are already being promoted as one of the highlights of the 2017 Scottsdale Fashion Square show in Arizona. After they attend the Arizona show, Belinda and Rod will be driving up to Frog Lake, Alberta, for a youth conference where Bullshoe’s designs will be presented as evidence that First Nations people can accomplish anything they set their minds to.
“I just can’t begin to thank everyone, and all the overwhelming support they’ve to given me to make my dream of going to New York possible,” Bullshoe said. “It’s not only the donations, it was how many people on Facebook who gave me support while I was there. This has been such a great experience.”