The face may be familiar. She has been featured in print magazines and on the runway at various fashion shows for years, now. She is especially familiar in and around Albuquerque. But, “Princess” Sapphire Persinger is just getting started. The 18-year-old Diné beauty is enrolled with the University of New Mexico (UNM), after completing a dual-credit program as a high school senior. Even though this is her first year on campus, she is considered as a sophomore and has embarked on her journey towards becoming a pediatric care physician.

Courtesy of J. Morgan Edwards
Courtesy of J. Morgan Edwards

She grins broadly as she describes being on campus. “I love my classes. The campus is super busy all the time.” She’s really excited at her first school-sponsored trip to the Catalina Islands for a leadership conference. She’s adjusting well to the campus life, and its new-found freedoms and responsibilities. Saying, “I feel I’ve managed the transition well by just prioritizing, and setting goals every single day to accomplish assignments or tasks and studying. Just organizing my life better.”

Princess began modeling at age 14, but she has packed quite a bit of experience into the past four years. And, her class schedule hasn’t slowed her meteoric rise on the pageant and modeling circuits. She smiles brightly as she says, “I love what I do, and all the opportunities that I’ve gotten to meet the amazing Indigenous designers from across the country.” She has had the opportunity to model for various international designers. She has participated in multiple runways and fashion shows across the country. After making an appearance at the Heard Museum’s Guild Fair & Market earlier this year, she walked in the 5th Annual Native Fashion Show in the City last month. “You really see their culture play into the outfits that you’re wearing. They all make me feel a different way on the runway.”

She maintains a strong student/work-life balance. But, she quickly asserts that school comes first. Princess appreciates that she must maintain a high GPA in order to qualify for medical school. She has developed a keen sense of discipline, which allows her to enjoy a high level of success. In keeping with that credo, she says, “I’m always focused on studying first. Modeling and pageants are definitely my passion. So, I’m not letting that part of my life go. I manage it by setting a routine for myself.” That penchant for balance is found in other parts of her life, as well. She is an avid baker, leaning towards cookies and brownies. But, she maintains her health and slender physique through exercise, particularly running. And, she aspires to re-establish her high school cheerleading by trying out for the UNM squad.

Sapphire's younger sisters, who she continues to support and lead. / Courtesy J. Morgan Edwards
Sapphire’s younger sisters, who she continues to support and lead. / Courtesy J. Morgan Edwards

She continues, “How do I manage school and social [life]? I try to think about where I want to be at the end of the day. And, who I want to be. And, what type of lesson I want to learn for the day. So, I always think about just having the right mindset. If I want to accomplish something as a pageant goal or a modeling goal, I definitely set my full 110% effort into that.”

“I like to think I have thousands of ancestors walking behind me. So, it’s always important for me to lead with my best judgment and my best character. And, to always think about what kind of leader I would want to look up to.”

Princess cites meeting new people as her favorite aspect of college life and discovering new perspectives. She is particularly grateful for the opportunity to interact with the international students and learn about their diverse backgrounds. She sits back in her chair to consider her greatest challenge as a new student on campus. After a few pensive moments, she remarks, “Finding the right type of study space. I first tried the library. But, then I realized that’s not really my [ideal place to study]. It’s too quiet. I got distracted. Finding a nice place, that I feel comfortable with, and gather my thoughts.” As for her favorite class, she says that right now it’s calculus. She most enjoys having one, definitive correct solution. She looks forward to her future medical studies because she enjoys science, as well. But, for now, she’s content with having a discrete answer. She relates it all by asserting her strong desire to heal children, saying “in biology we use a lot of mathematical equations to solve in-class [exercises]. I feel like I want to heal and treat kids. I definitely have a heart for kids. Just being in that field would make me happy as a person.”

Princess was thrilled to have walked in this year’s Native Fashion in the City show, back on March 23rd in Denver, CO. She is well-known, and sought after, by Indigenous designers. She says, “Coming back to model for the Native designers is great. It’s definitely great to embrace your roots. And, be proud of who you are. I loved being with all the other amazing Native models.” She is frequently featured by fellow Diné Penny Singer, and Acoma designer Loren Aragon.

Sapphire wearing ACONAV by Loren Aragon. / Courtesy: J. Morgan Edwards
Sapphire wearing ACONAV by Loren Aragon. / Courtesy: J. Morgan Edwards

She continues, “I am so excited. It is such a great production; I love working with all the designers and all the photographers. Everybody just puts so much work into it. You can just feel the energy in the room. Last year it produced such great media. I’m so excited to see what this year holds because each year it keeps building, getting bigger, getting better.”

Despite her student status, Princess, true to her stage name, enjoys getting all fancied up. As her mother attests, she is not a blue-jeans-and-sneaker-kind-of-girl. Princess laughingly echoes her mother’s characterization. “My favorite part of the show is definitely owning the runway. And showing your inner beauty and letting your confidence shine through. People are clapping for you, and everyone is so proud. It’s such a great moment. And, I just feel so empowered.” The opportunity for professional development and networking is not lost on her. The show is widely viewed as the preeminent Native fashion show in the US.

She is grateful and appreciative of the doors that have been opened to her through her modeling and pageant work. It never gets old for her. Rather, she seeks to breathe life into all the different garments, from all the different designers; making each one unique. Although she has a preference for full-length, more elegant gowns, she enjoys modeling a variety of different clothing, even athletic wear. And, she getting noticed. In addition to being a mainstay in New York and Santa Fe Fashion Weeks, she has recently been contacted about potentially traveling to Paris and for their shows.

She credits pageant competitions with helping to develop her as a person. When comparing traditional modeling to pageant preparation, Princess remarks, “I feel like [the two] are definitely different. Pageants are more about your personality and who you are. Modeling is more about showing the design and the art of the designer. True pageant preparation is not just about the glittery crown and the pretty smile. It’s about the service and the education.”

Courtesy of J. Morgan Edwards
Courtesy of J. Morgan Edwards

Princess has had plenty supportive role models along her journey. She credits her mother and grandmother as being her strongest supporters. “My mom is the strongest, most independent woman I know. I always look up to her for guidance. She’s always told me that if I’m confident, I can do whatever I set my mind to.” And, she strives to communicate those same values through her daily life.

“I like to think I have thousands of ancestors walking behind me. So, it’s always important for me to lead with my best judgment and my best character. And, to always think about what kind of leader I would want to look up to. I’m definitely proud to be Navajo, and I’m proud of my beautiful culture. I want to be able to incorporate other aspects, and things that I participate in, as well.”

Fans can keep up with Princess on Facebook.