By Paula Rath
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Paula Rath
As Tori Richard celebrates its 50th year, the resort-wear company is taking more than a passing glance at its fashionable past. The design team is poring over thousands of photos, prints and ads from the '50s, '60s and '70s, finding inspiration in the bold, timeless designs that have made Tori Richard a respected name in high-fashion circles.
"The anniversary is an opportunity for us to look back to what we were and where we came from," explained Josh Feldman, current president and CEO and son of founder Mortimer Feldman.
During the '80s and '90s, the company's focus turned to menswear, and the women's line disappeared. Now it's coming back with a fresh, modern approach with the dramatic prints and sophisticated silhouettes that made Tori Richard a must-have in the resort departments of the nation's most famous high-fashion stores, including Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and Marshall Fields.
Today the line is sold in more than 2,500 department and specialty stores in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Guam, Mexico, Asia, Europe and the Caribbean.
In a bold move, in 2003 the company opened four concept stores in Honolulu and Maui. This Saturday, the fall collection will be previewed, with vintage designs, in a benefit show for the Junior League of Honolulu.
The women's line faded away during what Josh Feldman describes as "the dark years," 1983 to 1994, when the family moved to New Zealand, leaving the management of Tori Richard to others. As the focus turned to men, the Tori woman, on whom the first three decades depended, somehow got lost. Now Josh Feldman is determined to find her again. "The Tori woman is sexy, fun, unique, fresh, loves luxury and wants to travel the world," he explained.
She also wants her clothes to be easy-care, however, so Tori Richard is exploring fine fabrics that can be machine washed. It's another foray back to the company's roots when Mort Feldman was a textile innovator.
One of his innovations was the use of "tegaki" hand prints from Osaka, Japan. Twelve-yard pieces of fabric were strung between bamboo poles and hand-painted by pairs of artisans. The unique prints meant that no two garments were alike. More than one million yards were produced this way.
A FRESH EYE
Josh Feldman sought the Tori woman in a fashion designer and discovered Ingrid Kaczender in Los Angeles. Last year she brought her sophisticated vision to the Tori Richard women's line. A graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology, trained in New York and Florence, Italy, Kaczender previously designed for companies such as Kay Unger, Matteo, Surya and Biya/Johnny Was. Although she visits Honolulu often, Kaczender said she can better keep her finger on the pulse of fashion if she continues to live in L.A. "It helps to keep the product relevant, because the main part of our business (85 percent) is on the Mainland," she explained.
The first thing the designer did was glance back into Tori Richard's history. Mort Feldman had the foresight to archive every drawing and print the company made. In addition, Josh Feldman has been collecting vintage Tori Richard garments for decades. He scours thrift shops wherever he travels (Sacramento, Calif., and Chicago have proved to be the biggest treasure troves) and shops eBay incessantly. Among his goals: To find some of the company's swimwear that he was told was commissioned for Lucille Ball.
Josh estimates that the company has produced 14,000 prints in its 50 years.
"The bold prints catch the eye and have their own unique character," Kaczender said, so she begins her designs with the prints and works the silhouettes around them. She is inspired by the old photos and ads for Tori Richard, especially from the '50s and '60s.
As she presented her storyboards for the spring and fall 2006 collections, the designer said, "You can see what a dramatic presence it had in the market. This is the Tori Richard woman."
The message was clear in the '60s and '70s ads for the company's sophisticated styles — ads that appeared in Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and The New York Times.
Kaczender loves a 1972 engineered paisley print called "Arabesque" that she dusted off and worked into fall colors — purples, navies and neutrals — and uses for an up-to-the-minute fall 2006 chiffon tunic and beaded strap empire waist sundress.
"I had a good feeling about the trench coat," the designer added, so she created a short trench in a solid as well as a vintage-inspired tropical print in fall colors.
In a nod to the trend toward embellishment, Kaczender had a silk/cotton denim twill jacket and pants embroidered in a "Rococco" design. She also trimmed the waist of an A-line skirt (reminiscent of Tori Richard's classic A-line dress, a hit in the '60s) with shells and beads.
Bring up the beadwork to Agatha Karpowicz of Kailua, Tori Richard's merchandiser and design coordinator, and she rolls her eyes. It's her job to make design concepts work in reality. The initial version of the beaded garments, using real shells throughout, "weighed about 20 pounds," Karpowicz chuckled. "We had to tweak that a little," to make it wearable, not to mention practical to manufacture.
That's how fashion design works. It's a constant dialogue between the designers and the production people to make it workable and wearable. That's why, Karpowicz explained, it takes about 1 1/2 years for a collection to come to fruition.
Tori Richard's fall collection consists of 125 pieces and will premiere on the runway at Sacs in the City, the fundraiser for the Junior League of Honolulu.
IN THE BEGINNING
In 1956, Mort Feldman, a former Chicago clothing manufacturer who "retired" to Honolulu, Janice Moody, a fashion designer who later became Feldman's wife, and Mitsue Aka, a pattern maker, started a new resort apparel company, Tori Richard. Their goal was to imbue women's resort wear and swimwear with a new sophistication, using only the finest fabrics and exclusive, company-designed art for prints.
They named the company after Moody's daughter, Victoria, and Feldman's eldest son, Richard.
Aka, who resides in Manoa, recently recalled, "We started from nothing at Pier 7 in a little backroom. Janice would design and cut, I made the samples, and Mort would take the garments to market. From the beginning (Janice) made a hit with a square-neck mu'umu'u with a puff sleeve. Then she did a mu'umu'u with a contrasting yoke in solids and prints with gathers, and it sold well."
After less than a year in business, the company had to move to larger quarters on Beretania Street. "In three years we were bursting at the seams there, too," Aka said.
The former Big Island girl soon found herself in the position of production manager, visiting trade shows in Los Angeles every two years to learn more about the equipment and techniques available to clothing manufacturers in the '50s and '60s.
It was the early days of fashion manufacturing in the Islands and "We had to pioneer how to manufacture," Aka said.
Current production manager Ellie Yamada, of Nu'uanu, can't imagine what it was like to manufacture clothing in the '50s. Now she uses computers to assist with pattern making, grading and marking.
Josh Feldman describes the early days of Tori Richard as "a happy coincidence of timing and being in the right place at the right time for the look."
It was time, he said, for resort wear to go upscale.
Tori Richard currently employs seven artists.
Inspiration for collections continues to come from the ideal of a well-traveled woman. "We draw our inspiration from places like Thailand, Borneo, Marrakech, Tibet, Mexico ... and the sophistication and culture that comes with a well-traveled lifestyle," Josh Feldman said.
Now, it appears, the company is ready for a new generation of Tori Richard women.
Vintage photos courtesy Tori Richard
Reach Paula Rath at firstname.lastname@example.org.