It’s been said that fashion is not necessarily about labels or brands. It’s about something else that comes from within you. One Honolulu man whose inner personality shines through his work is Nake’u Awai, an emblematic designer of Hawaiian fashion for more than 30 decades.
Acclaimed for his distinguishing prints and complimentary lines, Awai brings much more than just fashion to his runway productions. For the past several years, Awai has previewed his annual spring production to the Kahilu Theatre in Waimea, and this year is no exception. Described as part Broadway and part runway, his exclusive fashion productions entertain and delight audiences with music, story, dance, and history while simultaneously benefiting the theater.
The annual fashion show fundraiser happens this Saturday, April 19, at the Kahilu Theatre. It features not only Awai’s unique aloha designs, but Easter eggs and songs that celebrate the beauty of life in Waimea.
Awai’s journey from Hawaii to New York and Hollywood and then back to Hawaii, is one that most locals know little about, but one that is full of grit and glamour.
“After graduating from University of Washington with a degree in drama, I got into summer stock in New York on the east coast,” said Awai. “Every week there’s a new show — you’re scrubbing floors, breaking down sets, and building sets. Then every once in awhile you’ll get a walk-on part with companies that come in to perform.”
Awai fell in love with New York and decided to make a full time move to the Big Apple. Breaking the news to his parents, although humorous, didn’t go over as well as he’d planned.
“Do you remember the show, ‘Auntie Mame’ where there’s this fabulous line where Agnes comes back and she’s pregnant? said Awai. “Auntie Gooch says, ‘Agnes, what happened to you?’ and Agnes says ‘I lived!’ So when my parents asked, ‘What are you going to do in New York?’ I said ‘live!’” His parents hung up on him.
New York proved challenging for minority actors during those years and Awai returned to Hawaii before trying his hand in Los Angeles.
“I came back to Hawaii, but then I ended up in L.A. and that’s where I lived and was a singer and dancer on TV musicals. I lived there for about nine years. I ended up doing macrame for fashion designer Bob Mackey. We dressed Cher, Carol Burnett, Elvis Presley and all of those actors. That was my introduction into the design field. After nine years it was time to go home because my parents were getting older and somebody needed to take care of them. So I moved home, and with my father’s help I was able to open my business which was making clothes and that’s what I’ve been doing for 45 years.”
Today, Awai is an icon in the fashion industry whose coveted, classic designs never go out of style. Saturday’s fashion show is heralded to be a creatively unique production set to Broadway songs, funny stories, and Hawaiian mele that all reflect his quirky and amusing outlook on life.
This year’s fashion show models include Pat Bergin, Kauanoe Chang, Sharon Goodman, Liana Aveiro, Aulii Kirsch, Margo Wray, Peter Souza, Wally Wong and other familiar faces. And, key performers from the community include John Wray, Alva Kamalani, Desiree Cruz, Everett Knowles and the Waimea Hawaiian Civic Club, who will present a medley of songs by Helen Desha Beamer.
There will also be a special egg decorating contest, with prizes presented by the judges in several categories. Doors to Kahilu open at 11 a.m. with lunch and pre-show shopping. The show begins at 12:30 p.m. Tickets are $45 with box lunch, or $30 for the show only. To purchase tickets or for more information, call 885-6868 or visit www.KahiluTheatre.org.