Designer Koa Johnson’s eye-catching collection from last year’s MAMo show is modeled on the stage. He returns this year along with other Native Hawaiian clothing and jewelry designers. BEN FERRARI photo
Anyone who has spent time on Maui or in the Hawaiian Islands will notice the influence of Hawaiian culture and design in the clothing and jewelry worn by residents. Whether it is a kapa-styled print on an aloha shirt, a hibiscus or plumeria print on a dress, or monstera or fern leaves embossed or screenprinted on tote bags and other accessories, there is a style that defines Hawaii. One need only look around at independent boutiques, galleries and craft shows to notice the talented artisans producing unique items.
As a way to recognize and support some of these talented artists, the PA’I Foundation of Oahu brings its exciting Maoli Arts Movement Wearable Art Show to the Yokouchi Pavilion at Maui Arts & Cultural Center in Kahului at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. For the fourth consecutive year, this wearable art fashion show celebrates Native Hawaiian designers of clothing and accessories.
Artistic people will always create, but being able to do so and earn a living in Hawaii has been a more recent development thanks to a group of Native Hawaiians who saw the need to work for social justice issues and advocate for the protection of Native Hawaiian rights.
Back in the 1990s, kumu hula Victoria Holt Takamine, of halau Pua Ali’i ‘Ilima, together with fellow kumu hula Hokulani Holt, Keali’i Reichel and others saw a need not being met by the state legislators.
“Together we formed the ‘Ilio’ulaokalani Coalition to advocate for the protection of Native Hawaiian rights and the natural and cultural resources of Hawaii,” explained Takamine.
In 2001, Takamine decided to further honor and conserve Hawiian culture and art for future generations of the Hawaiian community and for those who make Hawaii their home. So the non-profit arm of her halau founded the Oahu-based PA’I Foundation.
“I created the PA’I Foundation to raise money for educational outreach programs for the Hawaiian community,” said Takamine.
The foundation saw that many Native Hawaiian artists and cultural practitioners needed to work at full-time, non-arts-related jobs because they couldn’t earn a living from their art, noted Takamine.
She also recognized that venues were needed, which would help the artists practice their craft as well as receive much needed professional development. By carving out opportunities for artists to work and create, not only would the unique cultural traditions of Hawaii be highlighted, but these opportunities would also help stimulate the broader cultural and tourist-driven economy as well.
In 2006, the foundation allied with Bishop Museum in Honolulu to organize and implement a month-long celebration each spring highlighting Native Hawaiian arts, artists and cultural practitioners. They called it Maoli Arts Month. Two years ago, the foundation re-branded the celebration to Maoli Arts Movement or MAMo.
One of the highlights of the MAMo celebration is its Wearable Art Show. This year Takamine and musician and kumu hula Robert Cazimero emcee the Maui show. It is more than just a runway fashion show. Many traditional Hawaiian patterns and designs take their visual clues from nature — in kapa, weaving, weaponry and tools, tattoos and personal adornment. In being represented through fashion, these designers showcase and share important aspects of Hawiian culture.
“We realized that art is not just what we frame and put on a wall,” said Takamine. “It’s the culture, principles and values that are at the core of who we are, that get transferred to the things that we wear.”
This year the show features the work of Kanoelani Davis of PoMahina Designs from Molokai; Koa Johnson of Kojo Couture and Anna Kahalekulu of Kulua Designs, from Maui; Kawika Lum-Nelmida, a featherwork artist and Kehaulani Nielson of Kahulale’a, from Oahu; jewelry by Teanri Designs, known for its featherwork; plus special guest Ari South, originally from Waianae, of “Project Runway” fame.
Davis of PoMahina Designs from Molokai actually started modeling for friends at the MAMo Oahu and MAMo Maui shows in 2015. She was a co-designer at the MAMo Oahu show in 2016 and this year she’s tackling both shows herself.
“To be honest, I consider myself as a graphic designer who makes wearable art,” said Davis. “I actually went to school as a graphic designer. By no means do I feel like I create clothing; I’m just very fortunate to put my art on such beautiful pieces.
“What once started off as a means to have original pieces for my hula halau then became a hobby. In 2014, I was laid off and, being that I was a single mom raising four daughters, I decided I’d dedicate my energy to creating designs that perpetuated the many facets of Hina.”
In explaining where shoppers can find her fashions, Davis said, “I like to think that we are like Molokai hot bread. You have to be at the right spot and at the right times to enjoy what we have.”
Johnson and Kojo Couture are taking the design world by storm. This Baldwin High School graduate and former graduate and instructor of the University of Hawaii Maui College’s Fashion Technology program is known for the luxurious pageant, evening and wedding gowns he creates. Johnson has been active with MAMo every year since the first show back in 2013.
“Fashion was the ultimate outlet for creativity and also to be making a living doing creative things,” explained Johnson. “It was the best of both worlds.”
Since Kojo Couture focuses on custom gowns and clothing, Johnson always does custom, one-of-a-kind collection pieces for MAMo.
“I like to showcase my passion and potential through more couture artistic pieces,” he explained.
According to Takamine, Johnson showed artistry and talent from the first MAMo show in 2013.
“Koa’s first year in the show he designed and made a dress from ti leaves and it included a head piece,” marvelled Takamine. “It was stunning to look at.”
Kahalekulu of Kulua Designs of Waiehu returns this year with new designs.
“I’ll be presenting a Kulua collection that establishes our aesthetic/concept and reflects on the meaning behind the brand,” said Kahalekulu. “It will feature a few of our signature styles while introducting some new stuff that will be out later this year.
“There will still be a couple one-of-a-kind pieces and some avant-garde approaches which I’m really excited about. I’m often simple, minimal and traditional in my design approach, but this venue and platform are perfect for pushing myself technically and getting outside of my usual comfort zone.”
The Kulua label comprises small batch, ready-to-wear collections, custom special occasion wear and a line for keiki (children).
“It’s a priority of mine to minimize Kulua’s impact on the environment through our fabric choices and business practices,” explained Kahalekulu. “All of our fabric is either dead stock or a newly made eco-friendly fabric like organic cotton or viscose, and all of our prints are digital, the industry leader for minimal environmental impact.”
Lum-Nelmida has created a name for himself as the go-to person for restoring and taking care of kahili, a feathered staff associated with royalty, and other vintage featherwork. This is his first year designing clothing for MAMo, but he has been involved with the foundation for years. In the past, Lum-Nelmida designed and implemented the stage decorations for prior MAMo shows.
“Kawika thinks about what our modern day alii would wear,” explained Takamine. “He takes contemporary fashion and adds humu papa, a style of feather lei making. He also designs jewelry with feathers.”
Nielson of Kahulale’a in Honolulu brings a varied line that was started by repurposing vintage Hawaiian muumuu and aloha shirts into bags and clothing.
“Vintage clothing in general, especially Hawaiian clothing, will always have a special place in my heart,” said Nielson. “It’s what we started our brand with and what so many people initally loved us for.
“When we focused mainly on vintage, our motto was ‘Make Your Own Story,’ because I loved that people kept these clothes from so long ago because there were memories and stories entwined into their very fibers.”
Nielson has since expanded to other materials and her own designs.
“I no longer do vintage for sale, as we chose to lead our business in another direction,” Neilson explained.
“MAMo 2017 is our debut of our first line of clothing. We’ve named it Chapter 3, as our last line of bags were called Chapter 2.
“It is beachy chic, island chic, resort wear collection. Our new motto is “A Hawaii Based Brand for Island Women Everywhere.”
South grew up in Waianae on Oahu. After attending a state college fair at the Blaisdell Arena in Honolulu, she realized fashion could be the career she was meant to do. She was attracted to art that had a purpose, and fashion was created, sold, worn and utilized every day; that appealed to her.
She appeared on “Project Runway’s” eighth season in 2010, known at the time as Andy South, and made it to the top three finalists. Known on the show for avoiding the behind-the-scenes drama while competing, South expresses a very refined, elegant look to her designs.
South currently operates her clothing line, still branded Andy South, out of her workshop in Honolulu’s Chinatown.
The clothing and fabric designs that will be showcased at the MACC will be everything from ready-to-wear active clothing to one of a kind artistic pieces.
One final point made by Nielson sums up the work of all the artists in this show.
“When these clothes go out into the world, I realize that most people won’t know the stories that are woven into their fibers. Some people will just see pretty clothes. But I guess that’s just the hula dancer in me, to tell my own stories through what I create.
“How wonderful to be raised in a culture where creativity abounds … in our music, our storytelling, our fashion,” marvelled Nielson.Read more at:http://www.marieprom.co.uk/prom-dresses-uk | http://www.marieprom.co.uk/formal-dresses-uk
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