Big Island meets Big Apple at Fashion Week

  • Courtesy photo Waimea-based fashion designer Michael Kamohoali'i is debuting his fashion brand, Dezigns by Kamohoali'i, Thursday at New York Fashion Week.

  • Courtesy photo Models wear Dezigns by Kamohoali’i fashions. Waimea-based designer Micah Kamohoali’i will debut his fashion brand Thursday at New York Fashion Week.

New York Fashion Week is back after a year hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic — and one of the designers with a show in the iconic event is a designer, kapa artist, kumu hula and Hawaiian cultural practitioner from Waimea.

Micah Kamohoali‘i will debut his fashion brand, Dezigns by Kamohoali‘i, at 7 p.m. Eastern time Thursday at Sony Hall on Runway 7.

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The 36-year-old Kamohoali‘i said when he got the invitation, he wasn’t certain at first it was for real.

“I was kind of in shock initially, like, ‘Oh, really?’ I asked then, ‘How did you hear about me?’” Kamohoali‘i said Tuesday from New York City. “About three or four years ago, I did a fashion show at the New York Botanical Garden. And they told me they have scouts that saw me at the botanical garden show — and they told me my clothing was trending at Merrie Monarch time. They watch all the social media for things that start creating a buzz. My clothes were featured at Merrie Monarch. The commentators were wearing it. The show ‘HI Now’ was featuring it, so it was just everywhere.

“So it created a big enough buzz to where they called me and said, ‘Are you interested in being our final pick for New York Fashion Week?’”

Once Kamohoali‘i was certain the invitation was genuine, he decided to go all out. He brought 20 models, 15 men and five women, “all Native Hawaiians.”

Three are familiar names: six-time Grammy-nominated singer Amy Hanaiali‘i, Kamohoali‘i’s cousin, who will perform at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian with slack-key guitarist Jeff Peterson; Desiree Moana Cruz, a vocalist and former Miss Hawaii; and Nita Pilago, designer and owner of Wahine Toa fashions in Kailua-Kona.

Kamohoali‘i also brought dancers from his Halau Na Kipu‘upu‘u, which also will perform at the Smithsonian.

Hanaial‘i, who posted a photo on Facebook Tuesday of her posing for a photographer in Central Park, said she “can’t wait” for the New York concert and fashion shows “especially with my cousin and halau.”

Kamohoali‘i said he, his models, halau and entertainers have been “super busy.”

“We’re actually in four fashion shows. It costs so much money to get our team up here,” he said. “We have 40 of us, we have production, hair, makeup. We had to raise funds to get us up here, so we might as well do as much as we possibly can, so we got into other fashion shows.”

A GoFundMe page titled “Support Dezigns by Kamohoalii NYFW!” had raised $12,145 of a $20,000 goal as of late Tuesday afternoon.

Kamohoali‘i said the organizers told him they “want to lay a stronger foundation with stories and culture, clothes that tell some kind of story and have deep culture to it.”

“That’s what our clothes are, they’re Hawaiian designs that are connected to kapa, the Hawaiian stories of our people,” he said. “Most of the designers that are showing on Runway 7, they’re international designers, so they’re big names. They’re established designers from Europe who are bringing some sort of story that they are telling. Michael Kors is showing on our runway, as well. Of course, we’re bringing Hawaii, full court. There are kapa clothing that we’re made, there’s lauhala pieces that we’re wearing. There’s gowns and couture, everyday wear, lifestyle pieces. It’s going to be a showstopper, for real.”

It’s been a whirlwind since the Big Islanders touched down in the Big Apple, according to Kamohoali‘i. He’s already been interviewed by New York 1 television, and today there’s what he described as a “Hawaii meets New York media blitz, about 100 media from Vogue to Vanity Fair” at Sony Hall.

And what’s it like in “the city that never sleeps” during a pandemic?

“Honestly, it feels so much more safer here than in Hawaii,” Kamohoali‘i replied. “To get into an establishment, you need to be vaccinated and you need to show proof of it. The restaurants are very safe here. I think since New York went through so much heartbreak when the pandemic first happened, they’re a lot more serious about it.

“And it feels very safe. We’re sanitizing; we’re masking up for everything.”

And while Kamohoali‘i is excited about the atmosphere and all the goings on in the U.S.’s most populous city, he understands what a successful show at Fashion Week could do.

“For my brand, it puts us at a different level,” he said.

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To preview his designs, visit DBKHawaii.com.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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