More than rubbah slippahs and tank tops, Hawai‘i designers are showing how much we-kea about fashion. Making up in design and innovation what we lack in available fabric, our local fashion designers are showing the world how their cross-cultural backgrounds influence their unique points of views. Here we talk to four of Hawaii’s hottest up-and-coming local designers.
In the image above: Makeup by Dulce Felipe Hair by Ryan Jacobie Salon
Model Nalani Ravelo, Wilhemina Models Shown on Nalani: Silk printed jumpsuit from A.D. (01).
How did growing up in both New York and Hawaii influence your design aesthetic?
Moving back and forth between Honolulu and Brooklyn was all about juxtaposition. The two cities are on different ends of the spectrum in many ways and I had to learn how to maintain a balance in all aspects in life. In my design I mix elements that are unexpected, whether it is a vintage detail in a modern fabrication or marrying soft elements with hard ones. In general I try to make things beautiful and harmonious when it may seem chaotic and grimey.
What first got you interested in fashion.
I loved to play in my mother’s colorful collection of silk scarves that I would tie around my head like a babushka and walk around in her high heels when I was young. I always had visions of designs I wanted and had my mom make them for me because I hated sewing.
Your collection of lingerie has really taken off, being carried in stores around the nation – why the transition into more apparel?
I actually have a background in ready-to-wear and have worked steadily in the designer sportswear industry for several years. After working for others I got burnt out and returned to school to take classes on lingerie – something that interested me but was completely foreign from my RTW world. I learned that the lingerie industry was indeed very different and challenging in fabrication and construction, but I dove into it and my Lornnie Louie lingerie collection was born. After a few years of working on the lingerie line, I decided to return back to what I really know best, which is RTW. I needed an outlet to be a little darker and edgier, and the apparel line was the natural progression.
Explain why you chose the name A.D. (01) for your collection?
Literally in Latin, Anno Domini is translated as, “in the year of the Lord.” For me it symbolizes a rebirth. I got this idea because of the approaching year 2012 and the apocalyptic jargon that accompanies it. I chose A.D.(01) as a platform to start over and the idea of something that evolves from darkness and destruction we find beauty and new life. Essentially it is metamorphosis – the philosophy of my collection with silhouettes that are unconventional and transformable from day to night.
Tell me about the materials you use in fabricating A.D.(01) .
I first learned about the Chinese silk from an old vendor I had while working for the designer in NYC. She explained to me that the silk achieves its color naturally while buried in charcoal and mud only found in one small village in China near the Yellow River. It is rare and very expensive, but I loved the idea of it and its earthy but sleek look. It stuck in my head for several years, and finally I asked Dr. Lin, the textile professor at UH Manoa, to help me find it and she did.
What is your fashion motto?
The biggest risk, is not taking it.
Tell me about the first garment you designed?
I started making Halloween costumes for fun in high school. The first garment I actually designed was a lavender prom dress where I used various fabrics that I put together in a patchwork.
Where did you learn to sew?
I started experimenting with outfits at home. My mother taught me some rudimentary skills of sewing, but from there I quickly decided to pursue my formal training at Honolulu Community College’s fashion technology program.
What elements of Hawai‘i influence your pieces?
Hawaii has an incredible degree of cultures that coexist together, and every culture has its own story. I try to pull my inspiration from as many stories as I can.
My most memorable PR moments would likely be those that I’ll have to refrain from sharing at the moment – best viewed on the show! But I definitely enjoyed times of genuine connection and downtime with the other designers, like having Michael Drummond cut my hair in the bathroom.
What would you be most excited to see happen for Andy South?
I hope to be an anchor of design innovation in the fashion industry. To open my own flagship store. To have my creative accomplishments recognized by the Council of Fashion Designers of America and my peers, would also be a great honor and personal achievement.
What do you think is needed in Hawai‘i to foster a more thriving design and fashion scene? More general support for both the art and fashion industry in Hawai‘i. Taking into account our isolated location, with a troubled economy, it’s very hard to survive as a business, let alone an artist. While, there have been several attempts at revival, the fashion scene and art scene are dying. What is lacking immediately is committed financial support for our young artists.
Model Misty Maa, Niche Models. Shown on Misty: Faux leather two piece mini skirt.
How does it feel to be named HCC’s 2010 designer of the year?
I feel driven to do more stuff and not give up! I worked hard on my line, and I’m humbled by the response I’ve gotten.
Tell us a little about your background.
I was born and raised in Hawaii. I’ve always been fascinated with glamour, style and attitude. I watched old musicals and movies that were very fashion forward, which had a profound effect on my taste.
Every time we see you out, you’re looking fierce in a mini and stilettos – why do you dress up when you go out?
Haha, I’m glad u asked. When I go out to dance or to an event, I like to live a little outside my everyday self, which is why I dress up sometimes. I have an inner diva that takes over and needs to get out and move it – move it!! It’s fun, and it’s funny.
What takes you longer, doing your mug? Or picking your outfit?
I’m horrible at doing makeup! I guess that’s what you get for having natural beauty! Just kidding. Defiantly picking out an outfit.
Describe some of the materials you work with. Why are you drawn to these materials?
I love working with leather/faux leather and stretch knits. I like the edge that leather gives to an outfit. I like stretch fabrics, because it is forgiving and contours to the body.
What is your fashion motto?
Always put on confidence before you put on your clothes.
What is hardest about being a designer in Hawaii? FABRIC!!!! A small selection of fabric, which limits your creativity and designs.
The very first relevant garment I designed was replica of the “Kona jacket”, a windbreaker with a translucent layer and self-made Hawaii print as one of the pieces of my senior thesis collection (2003 ) reflecting Hawaiian style in an abstract way.
What was it about aloha wear and Hawaiian customs that intrigued you most? What intrigues me most is the meaning and mentality of aloha, its origin, the values it expresses and the way it has carried through until today. Coming from Germany, where the winters are long, I was fascinated right away by how warmhearted and alive aloha wear and Hawaiian customs were. I hadn’t experienced anything like it before. Wearing and giving lei, respecting and celebrating life, land and nature, the meaning of aloha – all this has a big part in my heart ever since.
How is the fashion climate of Berlin different from that of Hawaii?
I would say Berlin’s fashion is ahead and on a different level. But that is just natural. It’s a big city with a large amount of creative people from all over the world that have been flocking to Berlin for quite a few years now. Some people compare it to New York in the ’80s: the living cost is still low and there is a big potential. In Berlin you see much more daring, radical fashions. The cities’ fashion is always more urban and therefore may have more facets to it.
However the fashion climate in Hawaii is great, because it is a bit more intimate and there is an interest in it. All the people I know in this area have so much fun and enthusiasm with it versus in Berlin people tend to be more cool or detached about it.
What is your fashion motto?
Charisma, features and garment all play equally together. I like things that have a subtle elegance about them that is not too obvious. I like elegant understatement.
Tell me about the inspiration for the high-waisted bikini. It’s not something you see every day in Hawaii.
Vintage swimwear and lingerie inspired me, from the ’20s to ’70s The high waist reminds me of corsets and those are very sexy, while showing less skin. This subtleness to me is more intriguing than bareness. I was a little bored by the Brazilian bikini cut being the only one around and wanted to offer more variety.
What do you think is needed in Hawaii to foster a more thriving design/fashion scene?
Something I just recently noticed in Berlin through talks with different people from the field it that without the tourists most of the Berlin fashion labels and stores wouldn’t survive. Over 80 percent of the sales are from travelers visiting Berlin. This surprised me at first, but it does makes sense. We need a week of tradeshow, fashion shows and events of all the island’s designers pulled together in one large event with a lot of media coverage. Something too, that will integrate the international audience – tourists – as well.
Shown on Daniela: Hand-painted “NYC Skyline,” Summer 2010 Collection.Shown on Kate: One sleeve Vanessa top and Bones utility pant from SOUL + FREE Fall 2010 Collection.
What first got you interested in fashion?
I think it was the whole idea of growing up in a struggling society and as a form of escapism through art. It was thinking of innovative ways of dress. I used to watch runway shows on Style TV when they’d show nonstop shows all day. That intrigued me.
Fashion is definitely not the first thing to come to mind when one thinks of Waianae. Describe what it was like growing up in Waianae and being interested in fashion?
Waianae is the most beautiful places on earth. Regardless of the stereotypes, the beauty of Waianae is shown through the landscape, the culture and the people. Yes it isn’t a perfect society, but tell me where is nowadays? It’s the people and lifestyle there that motivates me to break the mode and discover what else there is the world has got to offer outside of a rural town. People were creative in their own ways of dressing and we all pretty much had to do what we had to do. Is Waianae the fashion scene of Hawaii? No, but there is more to life then oversized pro-club tees, baggy denim shorts (or ‘shants,’ shorts as long as pants) and Nike Shox in all colors of the world?
Describe what your workspace is like?
Currently it consists of the my desk as a sewing machine table, the kitchen table as my pattern drafting and cutting table, and sometimes the floor to cut fabric too. But hopefully as you are reading this I now have a workspace in Chinatown with substantial room and necessities.
What is your fashion motto?
Fashion isn’t what you can afford to buy, it’s the risks you can afford to take.
What do you think is needed in Hawaii to foster a more thriving fashion/design scene?
A supportive collective as a whole. I feel like Hawaii has a lot talent in the arts (music, fashion, art, theatrics, etc), but because it’s such a small city, it’s hard to expose yourself and be seen by an audience. I hate the idea of having to leave to get more experience (technically and socially) and to have scarce resources on an island full of vital creatives. It’s like were all in it together, but most develop an ‘every-man-for-themselves’ mentality, and soon they forget where they came from and what sparked them to be great to begin with. Humbling yourself before greatness will wash away all insecurities.