It was a Cinderella moment for two Indigenous designers who hustled to make the perfect dress for Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) actress Kiawentiio Tarbell’s red carpet moment.

The Netflix series Avatar: The Last Airbender, in which Tarbell plays Katara, had its red carpet premiere Feb. 15 in Los Angeles.

Tasha Thompson was commissioned for the hand-beaded corset and Evan Ducharme for the tiered skirt. The two collaborated to make the dress without ever meeting each other in person.

“When it was a go, everything went quick,” said Thompson.

“I tore my fingers up a little bit but I have no regrets.” 

Fashion Designer Tasha Thompson beads corset
After the sketch was finalized, Thompson says the corset took a week and a half to bead. (Submitted by Tasha Thompson)

Thompson said beading the bodice took her a week and a half. 

The teen actress turned to her friend Thompson to help her represent herself and her character through the garment. Thompson and Tarbell are both from Akwesasne, on the Quebec, Ontario and New York state borders.

“First we figured out the shape of the corset and then we had the idea for it to be a little avant-garde, you know, with the wave coming up,” Thompson said.

“Then we just kind of kept adding from there.”

Although Thompson said she’s been beading for as long as she could remember, this is the first time she’s seeing her work on a Hollywood red carpet. 

With three daughters, Thompson had her own cheer squad at home. 

“They pushed me more than I pushed myself because they see my talents and potential like even more than I do myself,” said Thompson.

Big fan of show

Ducharme, who is a Métis designer based in Winnipeg, said he first connected with the actress on Instagram when she was cast in the role.

“I did what every PR agency would tell you not to: I just lost my cool factor, as they would say in the industry. I sent them a DM,” said Ducharme.

As a long-time fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender, Ducharme said his heart stopped when he got the email asking if he was interested in this opportunity. 

“The character of Katara is very important to Indigenous people, Indigenous kids, Indigenous fems in particular,” said Ducharme.

With the plan, the colour palette and the OK to go, within two weeks Ducharme had sent off the bottom part of the dress in the mail.

“To have the opportunity to build something for them for this premiere was a moment that the nerdly little Michif kid inside of me wouldn’t have believed in a million years,” he said.

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