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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, February 12, 2002

China chic all the rage

By Paula Rath
Advertiser Staff Writer

Jennifer Kirst, left, of Mo'ili'ili, models a linen jacket with a velvet trim and embroidered dragon paired with drawstring linen pants embroidered with a phoenix. Kimberly Duong's pants are low-rise linens, paired with a polyester lined jacket embroidered with an all-over butterfly motif. Designs are by Wei Yang and Eva Kam of Nouvelle in Kapahulu.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

China chic is a style that recycles frequently on the runways in the world's fashion capitals, but it never seems to go out of style in Hawai'i. Whether it's cotton Chinese pajamas at the supermarket or a silk cheongsam for a special evening, the look always seems right.

China chic once again came to the forefront of the fashion world at the spring collection of renegade designer John Galliano for Christian Dior. Galliano draped models in diaphanous chiffons with China-inspired prints. He put his own spin on the Chinese embroidered slipper.

And at Christian Dior Ala Moana, the hottest seller is a black T-shirt splashed with colorful embroidery in Chinese motifs.

New York fashion designer Vivienne Tam, in her book "China Chic," describes the style as "edgy — on the borderline between bad taste and hip." In Hawai'i, I'd call it a classic, at times tinged with kitsch.

It's about contrasts: simple cloth shoes and silk embroidered mules, sexy Suzy Wong dresses slit up to here and subtle Chinese banker's coats, colorful, coquettish flashes of skin behind frog clasps and conservative, monochromatic Mao jackets.

In honor of the Chinese New Year, Island Style went shopping for China chic. Naturally, we found plenty in Chinatown. But there also are finds in other neighborhoods.

First stop: Chinatown

Hawaii Martial Arts Supply on Maunakea Street (536-5402) has one of the most au-courant looks in China chic: kung fu outfits ($40-$60). "Kids are buying them for proms, weddings and parties, not just martial arts," manager Ramona Fukumoto said. She said they choose the ankle-length, navy-blue coats ($40) "to look like Jet Li."

Imperial Tailors on the corner of King and Maunakea streets (531-6111) has a broad selection of China-made slippers and shoes in velvet and cotton, either plain or encrusted with beads and embroidery ($6.75-$12.75). There are children's pajamas in a rainbow of brights, made of rayon brocade ($19.75), and cute keiki cotton sets with piping and fringe. We found a great-looking black jacket with embroidered borders and red frogs at the asymmetrical neckline ($44.75).

Across the street at Golden Star (536-8828) are racks of cheongsams, tops and pants, all made in Vietnam. The colors seem endless: purple, red, silver, gold, green, brown. While most are made of polyester brocade, there are also silk faille jackets with embroidered motifs and white-on-white rayon pant suits. Prices range from $50 to $80.

Although Ha Fashions on Maunakea Street looks like a fabric store, there are also several racks of silk, velvet and polyester cheongsams in a plethora of colors. Styles include sleeveless and short-sleeved, princess line and empire waists. Most are around $50. There's even a beauty pageant-type gown in black velvet, encrusted with purple and gold beading ($140).

On the sidewalk in front of China Arts on King Street (538-1628) is a box of Chinese cloth shoes at the best price we found: $3.95, or two for $5.95.

Maunakea Marketplace is a treasure trove if you have time to search. Next to the barber shop here we found faux-jade rings for $5. Adjacent to the produce stall were brocade bags, in many styles, some with pockets for keys and glasses, from $7-$19.

We've tried to visit Lai Fong (537-3497) many times, but have never succeeded in finding it open. The store has some fabulous vintage-looking jackets inside, but, alas, neighbors reported, there are no predictable hours.

Around the island

Nouvelle in Kapahulu (behind Starbucks, 735-0088) ) is owned by two kama'aina of Chinese ancestry, Eva Kam and Wei Yang. They travel to China several times a year to collect accessories and check on the manufacture of their own line of clothing.

The Nouvelle look is an eclectic mix of Chinese styles and European fabrics. Their latest designs, to be introduced on the runway at the Narcissus Fashion Show on March 3, include reversible linen jackets with Chinese embroidered details ($168), pants with slits all the way up the thigh (they come with frog fastenings, for modesty if you must) and an edgy cheongsam made of a glitter-infused Hawaiian print fabric.

Nouvelle's handbags and hair picks are worth the wait for parking in the busy lot. The shop carries a line of charming folk-art suede and leather bags with whimsical graphics and a touch of humor, as well as interesting cottons and brocades from various ethnic groups throughout China ($15-$100). The elegant hair picks are enough to make you grow your hair long. They're crafted from enamel, silver filigree and faux gems in brilliant pinks, purples and blues. Motifs include peacocks, butterflies and dragonflies ($12-$20).

Nouvelle stocks 15 styles of Chinese frogs in every imaginable color. They come in sets of four for $15-$25. With a needle and thread, you can add a frog or two to anything to create your version of China chic.

At Global Village in Kailua (262-8183), we found Washoes brocade thongs and mules in rich colors with embroidery for $30-$41. They pair well with Wabags brocade handbags in a variety of styles and sizes ($19-$40). A flattering line of capris, tops and cheongsams from Jade Jade Jade in rayon brocade was on sale for $40-$50.

If you're a crafter, Global Village carries scrimshaw beads with Asian designs, so for $2 you can attach a touch of chinoiserie.

Silver Moon in the Haleiwa Marketplace (637-7710) reflects owner Lucie Talbot-Holu's love of Asia-inspired fashion. Citron, a sophisticated line from Santa Monica, just introduced silk pantsuits and dusters with mandarin collars and China-inspired prints ($120-$200). Mica, a New York line, offers a little black dress with a mandarin collar and vintage brooches to pull it all together ($196).

Le Lotus Bleu in Ward Warehouse (589-1671) has brocade bags in simple styles that are made in Nepal and sell for $12.

Also in Ward Warehouse, Villa Roma (596-0870) has a set of trendy capris and a cami top with a dramatically asymmetrical hemline in fuchsia and navy brocade that's modern Suzy Wong ($139). The boutique also features several jackets with hip styles and Chinese details.

With all the China chic available in Hawai'i, at every price level, why not add a little to your wardrobe this season?