By Paula Rath
Advertiser Staff Writer
That's the generalization you can draw from interviews with the Kamehameha Schools graduates who are now well-known O'ahu fashion designers. This select group of familiar names will present their latest designs on a runway at their alma mater in a fund-raising fashion show Thursday.
Architect, choral director, journalist, physician these would more likely have been the predictions in the school yearbook in the years they graduated. Yet, somehow, Kamehameha graduates Nake'u Awai, Puamana Crabbe, Nola and Linda Nahulu, Iwa and Wayne Piena, and Pono Lunn each found their way into the business of fashion. Though all are familiar names, with well-known fashion imprints, all have seen their direction take a slight shift recently, so it's worthwhile to revisit them and their work.
Nake'u Awai (Class of '59) was the editor of the Kamehameha Schools newspaper during his senior year. He then began his college career at the University of Washington as a communications major, intending to become a journalist. But during his sophomore year, he noticed that the drama majors were having a lot more fun, and getting more As, too, so he began to dabble in drama.
He tried his hand as a chorus line dancer on the stage in New York, then moved to Los Angeles, where he danced on television shows, sharing the stage with stars such as Elvis Presley, Petula Clark, Jack Benny and Bill Cosby.
Professional dancers seldom have regular work, however; there are always breaks between shows. So a hobby or craft makes sense. When not dancing, Awai started making macramÚ accessories and garments. They caught the eye of Los Angeles fashion designers Jean Louis and Bob Mackie, then found their way onto the pages of fashion magazines like Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and Women's Wear Daily. So the dancer gracefully segued into the world of fashion.
In the early 1970s, Awai realized it was time to come home to O'ahu, and he resolved to make a statement about Island fashion.
Awai contracts with local artists for his unique fabrics. His motifs are often whimsical.
For example, he is currently featuring bugs and reptiles on his aloha shirts for Father's Day. Awai's inspiration for the collection he will show Thursday is, as is often the case, a Broadway musical. This time it's "Hello Dolly," and the lyrics to the wistful song sung by the milliner and her assistants: "I'll be wearing ribbons down my back this summer."
Awai's designs are available at Native Books & Beautiful Things on O'ahu, at Cook's Discoveries in Waimea on the Big Island and at Nake'u Awai Designs, 1613 Houghtailing St. in Kalihi.
Music was Nola Nahulu's passion throughout high school and college; she is a choral director by training. Her sister, Linda (Class of '73), went to medical school and became a psychiatrist.
"As adolescents, we never thought we would be in the garment business," said Nola (Class of '71). "But our mother was a dressmaker I guess we have it in our blood."
So it wasn't completely out of character when the sisters bought Bete Inc., continuing the tradition of the classic mu'umu'u styles created by Bete Manchester, whose high-necked, pleat-shouldered, ruffle-sleeved designs became staples in well-dressed Island women's wardrobes in the 1960s.
The alumni fashion show will provide Bete with an opportunity to show off two styles that have not been seen for years: the Palulepo'o, like a kupuna mu'u but with darts instead of pleats, worn over short pantaloons or long pants, and the Napua, a long fitted mu'u.
Shells and pansies are the fresh new cotton prints, as well as some Asian-inspired textiles.
Bete creations are available at Native Books & Beautiful Things on Merchant Street and in Ward Warehouse.
Wayne Piena (Class of '71) spent his school years drawing, painting and making ceramics. His college degree is in architecture. His wife, Iwa (Class of '80), always wanted to teach Hawaiian culture. Although their current business is fashion, they feel they have not strayed far from their original goals.
Wayne's artistic skills are required to create the silk-screened tiare, puakenikeni, honu and other motifs for Kapala 'Ahu's creations. Iwa's emphasis on education comes to the forefront when she works on children's T-shirts like the one that says, "Can you count to the number 10?" on the front and has the numbers in Hawaiian on the back.
The alumni fashion show will be a testing ground for the couple's new designs. The women's silhouettes are slimmer than the one-size dresses they formerly produced, and they are elasticized at the waist. Colors are brighter, adding pink and red to their popular neutrals.
T-shirts for men and children now come with long sleeves, a trend Wayne attributes to surfers.
Kapala 'Ahu clothing is sold at their outlet at 46-208 Kahuhipa St. in Kane'ohe, at Hale Ku'ai Hawaiian co-op in Hau'ula and at Cook's Discoveries and Kealia Ranch Store on the Big Island.
Pono Lunn's favorite class at Kamehameha (Class of '79) was architecture and he went on to become an architect. Now he and his wife Danene (a St. Andrew's Priory graduate) create playclothes with a decidedly Hawaiian flair.
While Manuheali'i used to be known for its one-piece bloomer-style jumpsuits, the team stopped making that style in 1999.
New styles include button-front capris in a tiare/monstera motif made of breathable cotton/rayon. Culottes, a camisole dress and flowing rayon sundresses are also among the current styles.
The "hula girl" dress, a bias cut off-the-shoulder sexy little number in rayon, will also be seen on the runway Thursday. Colors are summer brights: pinks, oranges, turquoise and lime green.
But the popular browns, reds and greens are still available in Manuheali'i's boutique at 629 Kailua Road.
A self-described "party girl" in her high school days, Puamana Crabbe (Class of '74) was often found on the tennis courts. But when her numerous cousins, five brothers and a sister needed clothes, it was Puamana who went to sewing school to learn to sew them.
During her 20 years as a fashion designer, Crabbe has come full circle.
She originally worked with pareo and Polynesian prints in cotton blends. Her signature style in the early '80s was the then-trendy "sack dress."
She later became known for her appliquÚ designs on fitted mu'umu'u. Ruffles and other details were characteristic of her creations. Brides often turned to Crabbe for their special holoku.
The Pumana Crabbe originals on the runway Thursday will harken back to her early design roots. Her "sack dress" is back, while all of her current styles reflect a simple, less constructed, comfortable cut. The fabrics? Polynesian and pareo prints; the appliquÚ look is gone.
Crabbe has also designed a line of men's long-sleeved aloha shirts, another throwback to her early days as a designer.æ
For years Crabbe had her own shop. But now, with a teenage daughter to rear, she has simplified her life and works at home. So the boutique following the fashion show will provide the only opportunity to buy her designs. Her home studio number is 949-5150.