Florencia Blackburn is a woman of many talents. From learning the ins and outs of automobiles as a young teenager to working more than two decades in healthcare, she was determined to fulfill one particular dream. Learn about her quest to work with fashion and create her own classic designs.

Artists come from all walks of life and every creed, colour, and nationality. Everyone looks at forms of art differently, so what you consider artistic another may not, but that doesn’t devalue one form compared to another. To find the true beauty in all art forms, it helps to understand the people behind them.

Florencia Blackburn might not have followed a traditional path toward a career of fashion design, but she was able to fulfil a dream of hers with the help of her greatest strength: the determination to never give up. Ms. Blackburn comes from a creole family in the United States with roots in Louisiana, and after years of education and experience in one field (healthcare) she went on to follow her dream in fashion and enjoy great success in the process.

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From the Cane River Creole Community

Louisiana is the home of creole culture and  community in the United States. Long before it was a state in the Union, the Louisiana territory was a crossroads of many different cultures. French traders, Spanish soldiers, African-American slaves and free men, as well as Native American populations, all crossed paths in this part of North America. One of the oldest creole cultures in Louisiana comes from the Cane River region, in the state’s north-central region.

Ms. Blackburn’s mother and father were from Natchitoches, Louisiana, in the heart of the Cane River Creole community. Natchitoches itself is the oldest town in the Louisiana Territory, and Ms. Blackburn’s roots go back to the 1700s in this region. She is descended from the family of Marie Terese Coin and Pierre Metoyer. Her great-grandmother is Eloise Metoyer, and her father, Percy Horace Amos, was also born in Louisiana.

While her family’s roots are firmly in the Cane River Creole community, she knows California to be home. Her parents moved west to California in 1942 to work in US shipyards during World War II. When peace finally arrived, her parents opened the first service station in Berkeley, California owned by African-Americans.

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A Woman with an array of Amazing Skills

The average individual isn’t likely to possess a wide range of skill sets. Most people are competent at one or two things, and take great pride in being so. Ms. Blackburn’s life has allowed her to acquire a great variety of skills. Growing up around her parents’ service station, she learned about automobiles, and even learned how to drive by the age of 14.

During her formative years in the Bay Area, she attended Holy Names High School, went to San Francisco State University where she majored in Biological Science, and enjoyed a long career as a histologist at Highland Hospital from 1959 to 1980. Even a successful career as a histologist, one who studies the microscopic structure of tissue, wasn’t enough to stop Ms. Blackburn from returning to school to earn another degree. This time her study of choice resulted in a history degree from Berkeley.

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Following a Dream

Everyone has a dream in life, and for Ms. Blackburn that dream involved fashion. She didn’t want to fall in line at someone else’s fashion house though, she wanted to bring her own creations to life. Her pursuit started off simply enough when she poked a hole in some fabric and sewed up the side. As Ms. Blackburn puts it, she then “gathered it at the hip and voila!” Her famous “Fanny Dress” had been created just like that.

She would go on to open her own shop where she could go after finishing at the hospital and labour on her clothing designs, and meet with clientele who were interested in her fabrics and dresses. Ms. Blackburn did her own market testing of her designs, and eventually opened a salon in the upper-middle-class area of Oakland, in the Piedmont neighborhood.

Ms. Blackburn decorated her salon to meet her own tastes, placing oriental rugs on the floors, plants around the space, and using antique furniture to cap the feel of her business. She created all her designs using fabric she imported from Japan and bought from a wholesaler. When the occasion called for it, she would travel to New York to purchase specific fabrics.

The “Florencia” brand, as it was known, came from sketches and designs Ms. Blackburn created herself. She used simple triangles, circles, and squares to create complex and beautiful designs in her clothing line. Her famous “Fanny Dress” came to life in just 90 minutes, and she admits that to this day that’s about all the time it takes her to bring a new fashion from concept to reality.

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Still Going Strong

Ms. Blackburn’s fashion line attracted the attention of the area’s best clientele. The wife of the Mayor, members of the city council, lawyers, doctors, and confident business women were all among her clients. Each one was hoping to get their own dress from Ms. Blackburn, but that doesn’t mean her clothes were meant for everyone.

She saw her clientele as marketing representatives of “Florencia,” and she hoped that strong, proud women everywhere would appreciate her brand. “The Florencia brand” was for those who, as she put it, “Dared to take the stare” of others. When she opened a store on Grand Avenue, she went as far as putting an ad in the San Francisco Chronicle seeking “100 women wanted to dare to take the stare.”

Ms. Blackburn’s designs have been in boutiques in Sausalito, California; Union Street in San Francisco; the SS Norway cruise ship; and even the lawn of the Monterey Jazz Festival. Today, she’s taken a step back from the retail world. Her store closed after 15 years in business, and she decided to work from home.

Ms. Blackburn continues to meet with clients in their home or hers to create the designs they desire for special occasions. She has a seamstress assist her in sewing her designs, but she’s not giving up on her dream. Ms. Blackburn stays in touch with fashion trends through magazines, newspapers, and television, and thinks of her own designs as classics. Best of all, her creative mind is as sharp as ever. She still gathers inspiration for her designs, on a daily basis, from the world around her; from people on the street and inspiring designs in movies.