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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, June 6, 2010

Fashion has never gone out of style

By Paula Rath
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

In April, the Merrie Monarch costumes of Hālau Ka Wēkiu seen here, from left, are 'Aukai Reynolds, Matt Williams-Solomon, Kaimana Domingo and T.C. Southard were profiled.

Advertiser library photos

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Stylist Frederic Fekkai, center, in 2000 with Fashion Forum members Nicole Drumeller, Andre Akeo, Pomai Uphouse, Tatum Henderson, Jennifer Yoshimori and Willow Chang.

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Paula Rath

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When I began writing for The Honolulu Advertiser 15 years ago, I was a struggling fashion designer, with an atelier in Kaka'ako. The experience of trying to produce a line of sophisticated women's wear made entirely in Hawai'i was quite an eye opener, providing me with insights for my coverage of Island designers.

Discovering and supporting local designers has been an important part of my beat.

About 10 years ago I sensed a sea change toward street- and youth-oriented fashion in Hawai'i, so I decided to tap the collective minds and eclectic tastes of fashion-savvy young men and women. This became the Fashion Forum, a place for nurturing, mentoring and networking fashion. They help me spot trends and scout new talent as well as interpreting, in their own unique styles, classics such as the white shirt and the pencil skirt.

Many Fashion Forum members have gone on to lives in fashion and entertaining. Tina Vines is now working for Betsey Johnson in New York. Sherry Shao-ling is acting and singing in Hollywood. Jannet Lee is freelancing for Vera Wang and Ralph Lauren. Willow Chang is the founder of Passport Productions.

The Fashion Forum is also the birthplace of the Hawai'i Fashion Incubator (Hifi).

In the '90s, fashion was all about ladies who lunch, attending shows in hotels or private clubs, featuring established names in fashion.

In the past decade, the Island fashion scene has changed radically. Young designers are creating DIY fashions, showing them in Chinatown clubs. Vintage and eco-fashion are eclipsing traditional production methods.

It is my pleasure to introduce new designers to our readers and celebrate their successes through my columns.

Among the designers (or their brands) who have debuted in my columns are Jay Nicholas Sario, Andy South, Roberta Oaks, Sierra Dew, Umee, Aima Aluli McManus, Polyasco 2, Pualani, Muse IX Designs, Organik, Tiare Teiti, Hadjibaba Bags, Jennie B. and Denise Tjarks, to name a few. Some have made it big, others have kept it small. Still others have decided to give up the tough fashion life. Can't blame them.

My columns have also taken a practical approach to Island dressing, with stories on the importance of proportion and alterations, how to pair a trend with a classic, making an outfit segue from day to evening.

Perhaps my most enjoyable stories are those that speak to the Hawai'i-ness in the way we dress. We are not New York or Paris or even L.A. We have our own unique style.

In January 1998, I wrote "All in the Coat Ohana," about a creative solution to the need for cold-weather clothing sharing among families, friends and co-workers. Then there was the story about how to match your lei to your neckline ("Fashionably Lei," April 1998).

On April 2 of this year I wrote a story called "Draped in Legacy" about how kumu hula select the costumes for their Merrie Monarch dancers. It's absolutely fascinating how deeply cultural the costumes are how clothing reflects our values and our stories.

What will I do after The Honolulu Advertiser? My husband suggested I go back into fashion design. No, no, a thousand times no. But writing? Ah, that is something I can never give up.