July 15th, 2011 / posted by paularath

Richie Miao and Kara Matsunaga have opened I AM. at 1221 Kapiolani Blvd. in the space formerly occupied by Blue Buddha. There are lots of fun surprises there, from the merchandise to the visual merchandising to the prices.

It’s a bit reminiscent of the time Richie and former partner Kihan opened CHOP Salon in Restaurant Row and both media and their audiences flocked to see the new approach to urban interior design. We felt as though a little bit of NYC’s Meatpacking District had opened on Oahu.

Richie, whose energy is legendary, is still doing hair at Etch Salon yet he and Kara manage to design Lovelessizm, their higher end line that is quite complex in its detailing, and Lava Roses, a simplified (and less expensive) new line. I AM. also sells Bliss Lau body jewelry, Maxi jewelry and TK rubber slippers, a hot item in Japan.

The visual merchandising at I AM. is beyond clever. There are nautical hints everywhere. The comfy chair is crafted from boat bumpers. Nautical rope, often painted red, is used for anchoring horizontal ladders  and vertical wood pieces that serve as clothing racks.

If you keep your eyes at eye level throughout the store you will be missing a lot. There are clever details from floor to ceiling. In the change room, for example, when you place a hanger on the wall you are hanging it on an old fashioned porcelain tap handle. If you look up you will see a shower head.

Richie called on Melissa Rivera, an innovative industrial designer whose company is called Unleash Studio, to design the interior. Rivera, who attended Rhode Island School of Design, teaches at HPU. For more of her work, it’s well worth the time to check out her website at http://www.unleashstudio.com  Her multiple talents are remarkable and inspiring.

When Richie introduced Lovelessizm to the Islands during Shop a Le’a at Ala Moana Center (he had several racks in the Hifi Pop-Up Incubator), it was greeted with enthusiasm but a  bit of trepidation. The complexity of the clothes required some explanation. Many pieces can be transformed by turning them upside down, inside out, or backwards. Pieces zip off and ribbons enable you to ruch  sections to create a different shape.

Innovative and fashion forward, they were not the kind of clothes just anyone could carry off. The line has done very well in Asia but some Hawaii folks didn’t “get” it.

That’s why Richie and Kara created Lava Roses. It’s a lower end line (prices are $20 – $60) incorporating many of Lovelessizm’s concepts, but in a simpler way. There is also less wool and more modal, cotton and cotton with a little spandex.

Many of the clothes are unisex and some are ideal for workouts. Isn’t it about time Honolulu had more edgy clothes for workouts? Hooray!

Either Kara or Richie is at I AM. all the time and they are really fun to play with. They can find all sorts of ways to wear Lava Roses and Lovelessizm. During the process of setting up the store Richie discovered that Kara is an expert at crochet. She began to crochet long scarves in unusual colorways that complement the clothes beautifully.

And if Kara is at I AM., so is Miso, their adorable little puppy.

I highly recommend that you try on some of these Lovelessizm and Lava Roses pieces. They look amazingly different on the hanger and on a body. They are so comfy and cool. Here’s Richie in a vest that doubles as a T-shirt, just one example of the clever attitude of the clothes:

At top it’s a  T-shirt with vest attached, at bottom it’s a vest over another Lava Roses T-shirt.

As for the name of the boutique, of course I had to ask. Kara was struggling with finding her next career move. As a wedding photographer and graphic designer she was surviving but not thriving creatively. She had some fashion retail background and liked it but it wasn’t enough either.

“As I was trying to figure out who I was, I thought a lot about our clothes,” Kara said. “To wear our clothes you have to be confident in yourself and know your own identity – and be willing to express who you are as a an individual. 

As soon as the name I AM. passed through her mind, it just worked. The period after the “M” is important, she emphasized. It creates some serious emphasis.

In the near future expect to see more accessories at I AM. The bags have nearly sold out and Lava Roses bags are expected soon. Their Bliss Lau pieces are nearly pau so they have ordered more.

The boutique, Richie said, “Is a lifestyle concept from head to toe. I come from hair and I want to help people put themselves together from their hats and hair to their shoes.”

Find I AM. at 1221 Kapiolani Blvd. Free validated parking in the Blackfield Building. On the web: IAMSHOP.COM. Phone: (808) 593-2767. E-mail: INFO@IAMSHOP.COM

– Paula Rath

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July 15th, 2011 at 8:28 pm

I love the ladders as racks too! I may just have to visit them. It’ll also make the wait for Pancake House or Gyukaku so much more bearable!

Melissa Rivera
July 17th, 2011 at 10:51 pm

Hey Allie! Glad to hear you liked the ladders as racks! 😉 They are an original Unleash Studio design that I thought would match the store well. If you like the style of the store check out more of my designs at http://www.unleashstudio.com – Melissa Rivera

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