Samantha Sangster. Photograph by Emilie Richardson.
Samantha Sangster. Photograph by Emilie Richardson.
As Samantha Sangster drove to a dress rehearsal the day before a large-scale fashion show, she retained the calm collectedness of a seasoned professional. Her easygoing nature and sharp sense of humor, complete with sarcastic wit, remained constant throughout the evening, though last-minute business loomed undone. She said that her schedule of various commitments around the Twin Cities keeps her on the road quite frequently. "I basically live in my car," said Sangster, who is known in the world of fashion design as Samantha Rei.

The car, a 1992 Toyota Paseo, contained the cluttered tools of a designer. In the back, a Japanese fashion magazine lay near the featured gown for the show, and shrill sounds of a Japanese rock band filled the vehicle. It's obvious she has immersed herself in the Japanese culture that has so heavily influenced her work.

Sangster, 26, who is set to graduate from the apparel technologies program at Minneapolis Community and Technical College next fall, has a jump on other soon-to-be grads with an impressive amount of real-world experience. She has had her own online clothing firm for the past seven years-Blasphemina's Closet caters to customers around the world-and has recently completed her fifth fashion show.

True to herself
The designs of Blasphemina's Closet veer far from the mainstream, and that suits the designer perfectly. With bright red locks framing a face accented with piercings in her nose and lower lip, Sangster-in high school, a self-proclaimed "Goth girl"-has never cared much for convention. "I really like alternative fashion," she said. "I kind of always have."

Fashion trends have tended to aggravate, rather than impress, her, she said. "I love fashion, but I hate fashion," she said begrudgingly. Sangster admires designer Alexander McQueen for his ability to ignore the rules. "He doesn't care what's in or not, he just likes what's aesthetically pleasing," she said.

Her own collection of women's wear has included knee-length jumpers with voluminous skirts, fitted waists and the occasional bustle. Several tops feature modest square necklines with fringe accenting. The style is reminiscent of a distant past, but bright colors and floral patterns serve to bring the outfits into the modern era, melding signature styles of the Victorian and Elizabethan periods with the present.

Sangster said her designs pull influence from Japanese street wear, namely "Gothic and Lolita" and "Aristocrat" styles. The two styles are based on historical types of clothing, she said, using the principle of sensuality over sexuality. "Gothic and Lolita," the younger of the two styles, has been typically misunderstood by those unfamiliar with the fashion. "The word 'Lolita' makes people think it's a sexual thing, and it's not. It's actually the Japanese girls reclaiming that name and making it the complete opposite of what it stands for," she said. "'Lolita' has to do with young and innocence and sweetness."

Youth and modesty are two characteristics Sangster advocates for in her designs. A retail saleswoman by day, she finds the trend of skimpy clothing for young women alarming. She believes clothing has played a unique role in the lives of women as an avenue for personal affirmation. "That's why it's so important we make the right statement," she said, "because we shouldn't be regressing." She stressed that modest clothing doesn't need to be boring, and wishes fashion would be more varied. "I want people to be a little bit more daring," Sangster said. "I want it to be fresh again."

From the clothing to the models, Sangster's looks are not likely to be seen on the traditional runway. "I don't like my models to look like models," she said. A desire to become a model herself was short-lived. She visited a modeling agency and was told, 'You're too big, you would have to model plus-size.'" she said. "I thought that was crap," she said, noting she was of average weight and height. But it made her determined to do things differently; she has made it a point to incorporate models of various sizes. "I want everybody to be represented," she said.

Growing up an artist
Sangster's always been artsy, setting her sights on a career in art at a young age. The middle child of three, she credits her artistic aspirations to a family that fostered her creativity while growing up in Hastings. "They let us do what we needed to do to branch out with our artistic abilities," she said.

Sangster's mother was gifted with a sewing machine, making all the children's clothing. Her mother's love of the Victorian era was equally influential. "I was raised in a house with a mother who loved Victorian stuff," Sangster said. "The house was always full of antiques and Victorian art."

As a young girl she wanted to be a children's book illustrator. Sangster's love of illustrations quickly turned to a passion for comic books (shared with her younger brother). At age 13, clothing began to pique her interest as well, and she pursued both artistic endeavors for several years.

She was so determined to be an artist that she left her family home to attend Perpich Center for Arts Education for her senior year of high school. Upon graduation, she attended the College of Visual Arts for illustration for a year before she decided to focus on her career as a designer.

In 2000, at the age of 20, Sangster branched out professionally by starting an online company to sell her burgeoning collection, which was one of three Gothic and Lolita boutiques based in the United States at that time, she said. The name "Blasphemina's Closet" was a nod to one of her comic book creations. In addition to selling her original designs, Sangster works with customers to create custom pieces, many selling to far-flung buyers. Though the notion of creating such pieces to fit the ideals of requestors could be a complicated task, the experience of working with customers has been rewarding. "It makes me feel good that I can make something for them that they really wanted and envisioned," she said.

In 2001, time spent creating comics with her brother culminated with the publication of "Morphea," a dark comedy following two sisters with supernatural powers. Though she focuses these days on fashion design, her experience in the comic book world has left a lasting effect on her in the design industry; she looks to Japanese Manga artists for inspiration.

Sangster has recently returned to school in Minneapolis. Now a student in the apparel technologies program at Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC), Sangster has learned the aspects of design that allow her to be hands-on at every stage of the process. A perfectionist, she said she must retain control of her creations from inception to fruition. "I'm not very good at letting go of my projects," she said. "If I mess up, I get mad at myself and know how to fix it."

Commitment has taken Sangster far in her professional career as well as in her tenure as a student. Noting her enthusiasm and motivation, MCTC apparel technologies program instructor Mark Caligiuri said Sangster is exemplary in her work ethic. "I couldn't ask for more," he said.

Making strides on the runway
Sangster competed in the Diva Minnesota fashion show on March 3, the fifth show of her career. Featuring up-and-coming and established designers, the show also offered 12 spots for students to showcase their designs. After submitting a sketch with fabric swatches, Sangster earned a coveted spot at the juried section of the show.

Sangster's floor-length chocolate-brown gown, with lace and a square neckline, won second place out of the 12 student designers. The award signified a certain amount of success for her. "It makes me feel like I'm actually getting somewhere," she said. The way there has not been easy. Funding the various projects on her own, Sangster said financing has been a challenge. "Sometimes I have to choose fabric over food, so I can make an opportunity," she said.

Sangster, who dreams of one day opening her own boutique, has started a menswear line and will debut it at an upcoming student show in April. Once she has graduated, she plans to turn fashion into a full-time career and make comic books on the side. For now, she has plenty to keep her busy on the road to success-classes, a business, a day job and planning her own upcoming wedding. Though her schedule is demanding, Sangster remains persistent in achieving her goals. "It's tiring, but I don't slow down," she said.

The profile appears in every issue of the Minnesota Women's Press. It reflects our founding principle and guiding philosophy that every woman has a story. Readers are welcome to submit suggestions for profile subjects.