story by: Yol-Itzma Aguirre
This week another page in our nation’s history was written, on January 20th 2021 Kamala Harris broke a class ceiling as she was sworn in and became the first Black and Asian American and first female Vice President of the United States!
Along with the events of the day, the inauguration fashions will be forever sealed in time. Just as many of Jackie Kennedy’s iconic looks are attached to certain events (and are now part of museum collections) so to will be remembered the famous dress Kamala Harris wore.
The – now iconic – purple dress she wore for the official swearing-in Inaugural Ceremony was designed by fashion designer Christopher John Rogers, 27, who is from the south (Baton Rouge, Louisiana) and is no stranger to dressing big names, like Forever FLOTUS Michelle Obama, Lizzo, Rihanna and Tracee Ellis Ross; but he will now also become part of history and the nation’s fashion archives.
Rogers then reached out to his friend and colleague, Arturo Castañeda Contreras, to partner in the process of constructing this historic ensemble.
As part of Arturo’s team, Natalia Hernández had the honor of constructing (sewing) the famous purple dress which was worn underneath the coat. Hernández, who is 57, and is originally from Danlí, El Paraíso, Honduras has been a professional dressmaker and tailor for over 20 years in the United States (and 10 years in Honduras where she had her own workshop) and has only been working for Arturo for a little over a year.
When I, myself – as a daughter of an immigrant mother, just like Kamala Harris – found out that it was an immigrant mother who constructed this dress and some parts by hand, it moved my heart. There is something truly sentimental about those of us first generation children that remember our abuelas, our mothers, either making a garment for a special occassion or hemming the bottom of pants in order to have them last longer. There is so much love that comes through their needle and thread.
I found it beautifully symbolic to learn that it was Doña Natalia that held the fabric and made the dress. For one, Kamala’s own mother passed away in 2009 and both Shyamala Harris and Natalia Hernández are mothers, immigrants, who made great sacrifices so that their children could have the chance to dream big. So to have Natalia’s hands sew the dress, made me think of that special connection that mothers’ share and that her hands carried all the love and pride that a mother’s heart holds for her daughter, especially during those special milestone moments.
During interviews with Spanish media outlets in Honduras, Hernández shared how the process came about. She first received the measurements not knowing who they were for and began the delicate construction of the garment, some parts she stitched by hand and others she used a machine. She said that she is always very attentive to detail in her work but once she found out it was for Kamala Harris she felt extremely nervous and spent many extra hours at work solely on the dress, making sure it was perfect, “...yo quería que todo saliera perfecto y gracias a Dios así fue.” – Natalia Hernández [LaPrensa]
Natalia’s daughter was the one that posted on Facebook, sharing in how proud she was that her mom was a part of this historic moment. Her post went viral throughout Honduran social media channels and immediately Hernández began to receive an outpouring of messages from the community, filled with pride.
When asked how she felt watching the ceremony and seeing the Vice President wearing the dress she constructed, she said “Me emocioné muchísimo… y me sentí orgullosa. Mis compañeros me felicitaron mucho porque a ella le gusto el acabado. Jamás pensé que esto ocurriría.” – Hernández
[translation: “I was very excited… and filled with pride. My coworkers congratulated me on my work since she [Vice President Harris] had expressed she was very happy with the final product. Never could I have ever imagined this happening.”]
The more I think about it, the more my heart is filled with pride knowing that when history looks back on this day, it was Latino and Latina hands, immigrant hands, that told the story with needle and thread; constructing the ensemble (coat and dress) worn by Kamala Harris, the first female Vice President — a daughter of immigrants herself — as she marks a new page in United States history…
read our full profile piece on ALL the Latinx talent behind Inauguration Day fashions: click here
Mexican hands that built Kamala’s Inauguration Day coat: click here