May 8th, 2019 / posted by paularath

Bliss Lau, fine jewelry designer

I recently caught up with Bliss Lau while she was on a bus, infant daughter Soa in her arms, traveling between her studio and her home. It’s a whirling dervish sort of life, the life of a working mother.

While Bliss is a thoroughly NYC girl now, she was born and raised in Honolulu and graduated from Punahou.

“It’s a totally new challenge,” Bliss said. Her mom schedule involves working two full days and two half days, while also taking meetings on weekends. “As a business owner, I had to hire two people: one for my business and one for my baby. I’m really lucky that I saved for so many years to have a child.”

It’s not surprising that Bliss has made it all work. Not only is she talented and oh so chic, she is also smart and savvy.

I have followed Bliss since she was a student at Parsons School of Design. Every step of the way, from her early career as a handbag designer through her innovations as a body jewelry artist, and now a creator of exquisite fine designer jewelry, she has taken a practical, businesslike approach to her design career. Trust me, she is a rarity in the sometimes (or should I say usually) crazed world of fashion and design.

Understated elegance from Bliss Lau

Like every aspect of her life, Bliss takes many things into consideration when creating a new design. Practicality is important to her, so many pieces can be moved around and worn several different ways. For wedding rings, she often creates double bands that can attach or detach easily.

While many of her pieces are simple and sleek, others suit the women in her life who “Are the Queens of Bling and want sparkle, sparkle, sparkle,” she said.

Bliss works with a wide assortment of precious gemstones. She also does creative nail design.

As her fine jewelry business continues to evolve, Bliss has identified a new initiative, ethical sourcing. “Within six months I will form a standard of practices” for ethical sourcing at Bliss Lau Designs. “There are a lot of components to why I am taking my business on a more responsible path. I feel compelled to be thinking about how every decision I make in my business can impact people.” For example, she uses recycled gold instead of mined gold. She recently searched the world for ethical black jade, which she finally sourced from Australia. She understands that women in small communities throughout the world work in abject poverty to make her materials available, “And I can help them. My eyes are open to a lot of things now. I think of what life is like for these people and it has made me a lot more compassionate.”

It became clear to me that motherhood, and her precious Soa, has deeply influenced her views on life and hopes for the future.

Bliss models three of her rings.

As a sideline, Bliss began creating nail art about eight years ago. She designs sophisticated black-and-white motifs for Etsuko Shimatani’s Japanese nail salon in NYC. “Nail art became a part of my self expression,” Bliss explained. “It’s a little bit of luxury. It was one of the first things that I did for self-care and it made me happy during the transition to being a woman.”

Bliss is also making conscious choices regarding where her jewelry will be sold. In Honolulu, it had to be Riches Kahala. “Aunty Lo (Kaimuloa, owner of Riches Kahala) is magic and she’s so powerful. When I was thinking about who I would like to work with in Honolulu, she’s the first person I thought of. She has had a healthy business for over 30 years and she’s still there. I have so much respect for her and her team.”

Custom orders can be placed for Bliss Lau pieces at Riches Kahala. They have gemstones from which to choose, as well as rings to try on and metals to help you decide which will look best with your skin tone. Phone 737-3303. Appointments are recommended.

Paula Rath

April 6th, 2019 / posted by paularath

“Blessings from Sea and Sky,” a new acrylic painting on gallery wrap canvas.          24 x 24″

I have recently returned to acrylic painting.

For quite awhile I’ve struggled with watercolors. When traveling, watercolors are by far the most practical medium. All you need is a little (or even tiny) palette of paint pans, a pad of watercolor paper, a few brushes and you’re good to go. It’s easy to paint anywhere because it doesn’t leave a mess.

However, acrylics can’t be placed in a carry on, so you have to pack them in a suitcase. And woe unto you if the tubes should leak or burst. Auwe! And, yes, they can leave quite a mess anyplace you choose to paint (hotel carpet, friend’s table, cruise ship veranda) especially if you don’t have a proper palette. So, watercolors make sense.

But I really love the versatility of acrylics. I find them to be more forgiving than watercolors. The layering is exciting and varies widely, depending on how wet or dry the paint underneath happens to be, and you can pretty easily control and manage the wetness. Also, acrylics are so conducive to collage.

“Breaking Big at Shark’s Cove”,” a highly textured acrylic painting on gallery wrap canvas.

Another feature of acrylics is texture. You can add all sorts of textures to the canvas, thick and thin, smooth and rough. You can build them up in areas and leave other sections smooth. Sometimes I use a little sand I picked up on the beach, especially fun for seascapes.

By the way, both of these paintings were something entirely different in another life. After living with them for sometime, I decided they just weren’t right. So I came up with another direction and inspiration and went at them anew.

However, I left a tiny bit of each of the old paintings intact. I learned that from teacher George Woollard. He advises never to obliterate an entire painting, but to keep a bit of it to add character and depth to your new work. I love playing peek-a-boo with a painting!

If you would like to see more of my work, including a few of the “Sand & Sea” fiber art works, go to www.paulaandjerryart.com

-Paula Rath

 

March 28th, 2019 / posted by paularath

 

Lynne Koplin, the CEO of Hawaii’s own Reyn Spooner, brings a world of retail to the islands. Her fashion pedigree goes deep into some impressive brands and labels. Her background is in swimwear merchandising, but she has also worked in resort, sportswear, upscale denim and lingerie.

Koplin was mentored by none other than Anne Cole of the iconic Cole of California swimwear line. Among the brands she has worked at or headed up are Tommy Bahama, J Crew, True Religion, Marks & Spencer (London) and Victoria’s Secret. She cut her retail teeth in the hallowed halls of Burdines Miami, I Magnin San Francisco and Marshall Fields Chicago, where she worked as a 23-year-old shoe buyer, traveling frequently to Florence on buying trips. (A dream job if I ever heard one!)

 

Reyn’s swimwear is fashioned from Italian circular knit featuring classic Reyn’s prints.

So what brought this high powered fashion executive to Reyn Spooner? “I love being with a heritage brand that’s authentic,” she said in a phone interview today. “The consumers today want the truth, visibility and authenticity. When I first came here, I felt like an investigator, trying to find out what the company was…and what made it last so long.” She felt Reyn’s resonated with her and her long-time love of Hawaii. (She has been coming here since 1985.)

The classic shirt in Pau Sky.

Koplin shares a vision with the owners of Reyn Spooner. All feel an obligation to help the company while respecting its long history and the affection it earns from its customers.

That affection is unique in these chaotic retail times. Don’t we all know men who own dozens (or scores) of Reyn Spooner shirts and would never be seen in anything else, whether on Bishop, Liliha or Auahi Street?

In 2019, enter the women. We have all shopped at Reyn’s for our husbands, brothers and fathers for decades. Now it’s our turn.

The classic shirt dress in Maui Palm.

The Limited Edition Women’s Collection includes a classic shirt, as well as a classic shirt dress. There are tunics and bermuda shorts and, of course, swimwear: one-piece, hipsters and bikinis. Swimwear sizes are 4 to 14, while resort wear comes in XS to XL.

While there are some solids, favorite classic prints prevail, including the Lahaina, Maui Palm and Pau Sky. Spring colors are mainly blue-based, with a navy neutral, but there are also pops of pink, coral and purple.

You can find them exclusively in Hawaii Reyn Spooner stores or online at www.reynspooner.com

– Paula Rath

February 24th, 2019 / posted by paularath

Photo of Zain by Christopher Aoun for Sony Pictures Classics

This has been a good year for the movies. It didn’t start that way. There was seldom a movie I wanted to see until “Green Book” arrived, thanks to the Hawaii International Film Festival (HIFF).

But during the past few months some wonderful foreign films have finally arrived in Honolulu Theaters. My favorite among them is “Capernaum,” and I will be on the edge of my TV chair tomorrow night, anxious to see if this superb piece of art wins “Best Foreign Film.” It so deserves to win!

“Capernaum” means chaos, and refers to the chaos of refugee life in the slums of Beirut, Lebanon. The story is about a 12-year-old boy named Zain  who is suing his parents for giving birth to him. He grew up as a non-existent, invisible child because he has no birth certificate or any papers to prove he’s alive. And his parents just keep having child after child, when they are unable to afford any of them.

In a broader sense, it’s about the millions of refugee children who have fled from Syria with their families and are living an injustice every day in the slums throughout the region. They are a lost generation of children.

The uber-talented director is a Lebanese woman named Nadine Labaki. She did not use a casting company, but rather scoured the slums of the city to find the actors for every role.

The lead is played by a Syrian refugee child named Zain who grew up in the appalling slums of Beirut in the same way his character did, working in the streets and never being allowed to attend school. Smart, sensitive and resilient, Zain’s is a story of survival of the fittest.

Labaki considers the movie a totally collaborative effort. She listened to everything Zain and other actors told her about life on the streets, and incorporated their real-life experiences into the script. “It’s my duty to show it,” she said of the often brutal images.

A warning: This movie can be really hard to take at times. Although he is 12, Zain is about the size of an eight-year-old due to malnutrition. His life is unspeakable, or rather unthinkable. The situations he finds himself in are heart-wrenching.

The good news is that the real-life Zain and his family have now achieved refugee status in northern Norway and Zain is going to school for the first time in his life. He also has a bed of his own for the first time. And he’s traveling the world to promote “Capernaum,” in a little black suit, bringing joy to everyone he meets.

Go see it. It’s still playing at the Kahala Theatres. And join me in rooting for this gem to walk away with an Oscar.

-Paula Rath

February 20th, 2019 / posted by paularath

Photo by Andreas Rentz, Getty Images

Yes, there were moments when I shared a space with the late great designer Karl Lagerfeld. But of course, he took up all the space, and most of the oxygen, in the room. He is as magnetic and mesmerizing as the world’s fashion writers say he is. They also bear witness to his misogyny and the complex legacy he lived, and now leaves behind.

My moment was during a trip I took to Paris and London with the University of Hawaii Fashion Design and Merchandising students in 2001. We had been treated to a private tour of the (then new) Musee de la Mode. After the students left to go shopping, Karen Kamahele, who teaches fashion technology at Honolulu Community College, and I hung around to enjoy the museum some more.

We had it all to ourselves, so we made another round of the amazing couture creations from Madame Gres, Poiret, Yves Saint Laurent, Dior and other fashion innovators of past decades. We marveled at the originality, complexity, dignity and grace of these garments.

When we came to the Chanel exhibit, we were surprised to see there were no garments on show. Instead, it was a collage of marketing materials, such as TV screens, posters, fashion photography, invitations and ad layouts. Not a single Chanel fashion creation. “Oh my,” we exclaimed to one another. “What would Karl Lagerfeld think?”

Little did we know, we were about to find out.

Karl Lagerfeld was renowned for his highly original and over-the-top fashion shows held in venues such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

We were sitting at the museum’s computers, watching a series of historical fashion shows parade past our eyes, when the doors opened and in walked three burly men in black suits, severe frowns and arms akimbo. Behind these imposing body guards was Karl Lagerfeld. We did our best not to stare, or at least not to allow him to see us staring.

But there he was, larger than life, wearing his signature black tailored suit with ultra-starched 4-inch tall shirt collar and black gloves. Impeccable and imposing!

As he walked slowly through the exhibition, we could hear soft murmurs in his lilting French: “Ah, oui, c’est jolie,” “Tres belle,” “Magnifique.”

Karen and I gulped when he approached the Chanel section. “OMG! What will he think when he sees electronics and photographs instead of couture and Chanel tweed?”

Lagerfeld walked back and forth in front of his, the largest section of the show, and nodded politely. He was smiling and commenting, but sadly he was beyond our earshot, so we’ll never know what he said. Or, for that matter, what he really thought. But I suspect, since Lagerfeld is known to have been outspoken and brutally honest, that he really was happy with the portrayal of his Chanel in this marketing manner.

No, we never tried to break through the barrage of his body guards and entourage to meet him. We were content just knowing that for a brief moment we shared a space with Karl Lagerfeld.

So, what do you think his heavenly conversations with Coco Chanel might be like? Would this clash of fashion titans create sparks and lightening or would they become the best of fashion buddies?  Let your imagination soar and please let us hear from you!

– Paula Rath