July 14th, 2018 / posted by paularath

Leah lands in the City –  NYC

L.A. designer Leah Redmond, creator of GORDON, a fresh new collection based on palaka, did not take a straight path to fashion design. She says she was just a little too local and low key for a career that usually requires a lot of time in the spotlight.

“I always felt like if you stood out, you were picked on,” Leah recalls of her small kid time in Honolulu. “You didn’t want to stand out. The most subversive thing I did was wear covered shoes. I was so painfully self conscious I ended up veering toward more subversive fashion like Japanese designers – not overtly sexy fashions. Love of fashion was there (in me) but I didn’t dress to stand out.”

So how does a painfully shy girl growing up in the casual atmosphere of Honolulu end up designing her own line in L.A.? Well, for Leah, life took lots of twists and turns, and she was willing to go along for the ride.

You know, sometimes fashion just happens to you, and it takes courage and creativity to hold on to it and let it take you where it – and you – need to go.

Leah’s first trip to Paris in 1998

After graduating from Punahou, Leah didn’t have a clear plan or path. She chose U.H. – Manoa and majored in French because she wanted to “get through college quickly” so she could travel. And travel she did. She studied for a summer in Annecy, France, where she found that “Speaking French to French people was scary.”

Rather than returning to finish her studies at U.H., she stayed in France, in the Loire Valley, and graduated abroad. She then joined an au pair agency on the Swiss border and “That’s where I really learned French. The three kids taught me.”

From France she moved to London, where she worked for nine months for Angela Stone, a wedding gown designer, in Parsons Green. “I was an intern and all-hands girl,” Leah explained. “The first day I remember she had me cut out a pattern in silk charmeuse. I had no formal training and I must have been horrible.”

Leah did have a little experience working in the costume shop at Kennedy Theatre at U.H.-Manoa, but there wasn’t a lot of silk involved there, and “I had never made a garment from start to finish.” While working on wedding gowns, she discovered a knack for beading. “I had a light touch, so I discovered hand sewing,” she explained.

Leah’s first sewing experience came at U.H. Manoa’s Kennedy Theatre.

Following her time in France, Leah returned to Hawaii “To make a little money” to enable her to move to NYC. “You’re too young to know you can’t,” she said with a chuckle. “As shy as I was, I knew I wanted to work with costumes. I loved clothes. The reason I got into costumes, it felt safer and less committal. I was still working with clothes, but not having to stand out or have a personal point of view. I always wanted to do fashion but didn’t have the confidence.”

On arrival in NYC, Leah simply picked up a Time Out magazine and perused a list of theatres. “I picked the first eight and sent my resume to those eight and one theatre responded immediately that they needed a wardrobe supervisor for a new play, “The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told.” It was the Off Broadway Theatre Workshop and Leah worked there until 2000.

Leah’s first Off-Broadway play, where she worked as Wardrobe Supervisor.

The next play Leah worked on was “Dirty Blonde.” “It went to Broadway and I went with it,” she said. She worked in theatre for 17 years, until 2014. The job demands total dedication. There are eight performances a week. The Wardrobe Supervisor must maintain all the costumes for the cast. There are alterations to work on all day and you need to be on hand throughout the show in case of mishaps that can happen on the stage.

About the time she was working on “Aida,” Leah decided it was time to get some formal training in fashion, so she attended the Fashion Institute of Technology from 2000-2001. Through FIT she was given an opportunity to intern with Alexandre Plokhov, designer of Cloak. In this atelier she was exposed to Plokhov’s exacting tailoring techniques and “His minimalist, perfectionist details and fabrics,” Leah explained.

Leah was fortunate to be working with Cloak in 2004, when they won the prestigious CFDA/Vogue Fashion Foundation Fund Award, which is one of fashion’s pinnacles. Cloak won along side Thom Browne and Proenza Schouler. (Forgive me for name dropping, but hey!)

The creatives at Cloak. That’s uber designer Alexandre Plokhov in the center.

Leah met actress Debra Messing on Broadway and “We got along really well and she asked me if I wanted to be her dresser on her TV show, ‘The Mysteries of Laura.’ I loved it but it burned me out working more than 70 hours a week. I longed for warmth and consistency and a slower pace. If I’m going to put 75 hours a week into a project, I want it to be my project.”

The crazy hours and insane pace of her career were not what finally drove Leah to go west. It was the feeling that “I hit saturation level in New York City. When you stop enjoying your city, and wanting to explore it, it’s time to go.” L.A. was calling, and she moved west in 2016.

Leah gets a hug from actress Debra Messing.

Leah made her first palaka dress in 2015 and friends loved it. “They said ‘You should start a business with that dress,’ and I did,” she explained.

If you missed it, check out my previous blog about GORDON, Leah’s fab new line of palaka dresses.

https://paularath.com/2018/07/gordon-meets-palaka/

For the moment, the only place you can buy GORDON is at www.shopgordon.co

-Paula Rath

 

 

July 5th, 2018 / posted by paularath

A navy GORDON mini by Leah Redmond      Photo by Elisa Chang

When my son, Duncan Graham, was a student at Punahou, he had a close cadre of friends who were artists of one sort or another: film makers, writers, photographers, musicians, actors, you get the picture. In the group was Leah Redmond, a young woman with a lot of style. I always enjoyed checking out what she was wearing and how she put it all together. And I wondered if she would choose fashion as a career.

I lost touch with Leah, although I had heard she was in New York City, working as a dresser in the theater. (More about her fascinating career path in my next blog.)

Now Leah has given up the glam and glitter of Broadway and is living in Los Angeles. And, happily, she has introduced her first fashion line, called GORDON.

Photo by Elisa Chang

GORDON is clearly a nod to Leah’s small kid time in Hawaii. The line is 100 percent palaka! She has, in essence, modernized palaka for today’s woman.

Inspired by the silhouettes of the ’60s, GORDON dresses resonate with me. And, of course, remind me of my designing days when I did a line of palaka shorts, tops, dresses and muumuus.

The introductory line is all about simple, easy to wear, go-to palaka dresses. It’s minimalism personified, largely inspired by Leah’s passion for Japanese designers. (Think Yohi Yamamoto and Comme des Garcons.) There’s a common thread here, as palaka in Hawaii was originally worn largely by Japanese workers in the sugar and pineapple fields, and it was popularized by the Arakawas, a local Japanese family.

 

GORDON dresses are perfect for Hawaii weather.        Photo by Elisa Chang

 

GORDON dresses accessorize beautifully and can be worn many different ways. I ordered a GORDON mini in black and red palaka and sometimes wear it with ballet flats and a fedora with my father’s feather lei. Or with a pair of strappy sandals and an armful of chunky bracelets. Or with capri-length leggings and red lace-ups. It’s so versatile!

As a designer, I appreciate all the work and attention to detail Leah employs. Seams are bound. Plaids are matched. Pockets are palaka lined. Sleeves are engineered so that when you roll them up, they stay. She’s such a perfectionist!

 

Designer Leah Redmond with a rack of GORDON dresses with contrasting white yokes. Photo by Carrie Gifford

 

Each GORDON dress is made to order. “GORDON’s objective is to limit quantities and promote minimalism, allowing customers to invest in a few multifunctional pieces that can be worn in many different ways, rather than consume fast fashion by mass manufacturers,” Leah explains.

 

GORDON dresses come in navy, red, black and gray palaka, all one shade or a combination. Photo by Simone White

 

You are probably wondering how GORDON got its name. Leah explained that “Gordon” is British slang for “nerd” or “awkward” and “I love the symmetry of the name visually.”

Find GORDON dresses, and a way to order them, at www.shopgordon.co

-Paula Rath

 

 

 

 

July 2nd, 2018 / posted by paularath

Hawaii’s Project Runway participation in past seasons has been outstanding. Jay Nicholas Sario, Ari South and Kini Zamora have all made us proud.

Over the years, both Honolulu Community College and U.H.-Manoa fashion programs have produced a lot of talent.

I am kinda out of the loop with the student scene now. And I don’t always keep up with the up-and-coming designers in our community. Who will step up to show Project Runway viewers what we’ve got?

If you know someone with the talent, drive and strength of character to survive this often scary pursuit, please let him or her know about the casting call for Season 17.

Mahalo!

-Paula Rath

June 23rd, 2018 / posted by paularath

If I were asked to choose Hawaii’s most iconic fabric, I would pick palaka.

Palaka is our signature plaid, much like a tartan is for a Scottish clan, but palaka is available to anyone.

According to “The Art of the Aloha Shirt” by DeSoto Brown and Linda Arthur, palaka was first seen in Hawaii on 18th century sailors from Europe. The sailors wore loose-fitting shirts called “frocks,’ that were made of sturdy, heavy cotton woven in white and navy blue.

Palaka is a Hawaiianized version of the word “frock.”

Palaka became popular during plantation days, when it was used for shirts, skirts and aprons. The fabric became especially prized because it was sturdy enough to protect the workers from the sharp, and sometimes treacherous, cutting edges of sugar cane and pineapples. Its durability was highly prized, much in the way denim was prized among the work force in California around the same time.

Author and textile historian Barbara Kawakami writes: “By the end of the nineteenth century, as immigrants came to Hawaii and worked in the fields and mills, the use of palaka spread because of its durability, coolness and design. The palaka shirt and palaka jacket were garments commonly worn by plantation workers of Portugese and Hawaiian ancestry. The earliest documentation of palaka shirts and jackets occurs in pictures from 1895 to 1900.”

Hawaiian paniolo (cowboys) began wearing palaka garments for their rough ranch work and by the 1920s and 1930s, palaka became a household word.

By 1930, Kawakami writes, “palaka had become closely identified with the local population.”

I remember when Arakawa’s General Store in Waipahu was the primary purveyor of palaka garments. During the ’70s, palaka became quite the fashion statement and I think it was around then that Arakawa’s introduced  other colors, such as red, green, pink, purple, yellow and black. The iconic store closed long ago and now Kaimuki Dry Goods has the best selection of palaka, in a wide range of colors.

Kaimuki Dry Goods on 10th Avenue in Kaimuki carries high quality palaka in many colors for $10 a yard.

Nowadays, palaka is made of durable cotton twill which has the added benefit of breathe-ability, a distinct advantage in our tropical climate.

 

Palaka goes purple in this cute bucket hat by RYP Designs of Honolulu.

Palaka is no longer limited to shirts and jackets. RYP Designs incorporates palaka into their accessories, quilts and yoga-related products.

RYP’s yoga meditation quilt.

Palaka visor by RYP Designs

Island Slipper often makes palaka rubber slippers, and I can vouch for their sturdiness and longevity – I’ve had a pair for more than eight years!

For his Spring-Summer 2018 Collection, island designer Kini Zamora featured palaka in new ways. Zamora put a decidedly personal twist on Hawaii’s iconic fabric when he actually used a palaka-like plaid that looks like it was stretched on the loom. He also includes a few palaka pieces in his current collection, such as men’s pants and a fanny pack.

Top by Kini Zamora    Photo courtesy www.kinizamora.com

 

Couture designer Stefano Pilati prizes palaka too! Featured in Vogue magazine.

Even high end European designers have adopted palaka in their collections from time to time. Stefano Pilati created a chic red-and-white palaka skirt in his collection for Agnona several years ago. The stylish skirt features welt pockets at the hip and a clever panel of diagonal palaka to give it extra kick.

Watch paularath.com for a hot new designer, Leah Redmond, a Punahou grad living in L.A., who has created a fabulous line of garments made entirely of classic palaka.

  • Paula Rath

 

June 20th, 2018 / posted by paularath

Detail from my Mao Mam vest    Photos by Jerry Mayfield

 

There was a collective sigh of sadness when Tapestries closed after its 25-year storied stay at Ala Moana Center. Tapestries was, after all, one of the few local stores that remained in Ala Moana, and owner Lori Doo Wong is a respected and appreciated buyer and retailer who really understands her customers.

Now Lori is doing retail in a new way and with a new partner: Chie Okada Otto of Hawaii Kai. They have opened Tapestries Studio Online (www.tapestries-studio.com) and are now offering occasional trunk shows. Please follow my blog for dates and locations of the trunk shows.

Mao Mam cotton vest with ruffled collar and chic details

While many readers will know Lori’s name, Chie’s may not be as familiar. She has always worked behind the scenes.

Chie has been in the fashion business for quite a few years now, first as a sales rep for Kinu, a chic and sophisticated line based in Japan and made in Thailand. Now she is designing and collaborating with Lori on three lines: You-Be, Mao Mam and Mona Lisa.

Mao Mam dress with lots of little design surprises. This is my go-to dress these days!

Each of the lines has a different aesthetic and character, but I think they all work superbly in Hawaii.

Mao Mam, which is made in Thailand, is highly original and, well, just fun to wear. There are lots of little appliques, trims, mixed prints and hidden pockets. These are clothes that catch the eye. They are made of a sturdy but light cotton that adapts to the interesting silhouettes extremely well. Look for clever collars and necklines, unexpected sleeves and unpredictable hemlines.

I love to wear my Mao Mam dress with black leggings that come just below the knee and chunky bold jewelry such as a wood ebony bracelet.

Cowl necks are a signature design detail for You-Be.
Photo courtesy of Tapestries Studio Online

You-Be features simple lines with bold prints in airy crinkle cottons and cotton knits. Although made in Thailand, this line has a Japanese aesthetic due to Chie’s original prints. So cute with jeans or leggings and stacks of beads or a flowing scarf.

Mona Lisa features some stunning prints.   Photo courtesy of Tapestries Studio Online

Mona Lisa, made in India, features playful prints and tropics-friendly fabrics. These are the tops you will wear practically every time you go out, whether to Whole Foods, the mall or your favorite coffee house.

How cute is this design detail on the back of my Mao Mam vest?

Tapestries Studio Online is currently celebrating the kinder, gentler side of the USA by featuring all their red, white and blue garments. Be sure to subscribe to paularath.com so you don’t miss announcements of upcoming events and collections at Tapestries Studio Online.

Next up right here: That long-awaited story on palaka in Hawaii and a surprising new fashion line out of L.A. that’s entirely inspired by Hawaii’s own palaka.

  • Paula Rath