Manaola at New York Fashion Week

With the glint of gold and sacred geometry inspired by repetitious patterns found in nature, Manaola Yap offered up his interpretation of what a 21st century Hawaiian monarchy might look like, during his Kolani runway show at Studio 450 during New York Fashion Week on Sept. 8, 2017.

His presentation took place thanks to an invitation from the U.K.-based Oxford Fashion Studio, which promotes the work of original new designers. Every year, the organization reviews the work of 8,000 designers worldwide, choosing 24 to present six looks at fashion weeks in New York, Milan, Paris and London. Out of the 24, 10—like Hawaii’s Manaola—are selected to present full collections.

True to his hula lineage as the son of Kohala kumu hula Nani Lim Yap, Manaola opened the show with protocols of the dance. Flanked by his mother and sister, Asialynn Yap, he performed an ‘oli and dressing ceremony, the kakua pa’u.

Yap learned to sew from his mother, developing head pieces for ocean goddesses and fiery ensembles representative of Pele, which sparked his love for fashion.

“I’m not formally trained, but I grew up weaving lauhala. I learned to balance acidity and alkalinity in dye baths using plant-based dyes, kukui nuts, bark fibers.”

Manaola takes his bows alongside his mother Nani Lim Yap, and sister Asialynn.

Growing up with these art forms put him in a unique position in today’s DIY-mad world, in which others are playing catchup in trying to relearn traditional methods of creation, while fashion observers abroad—long familiar with Hawaii’s floral-print fashion tradition—are searching for authenticity.

Yap launched Manaola two years ago, merging his cultural heritage with a contemporary fashion aesthetic.

“I wanted to figure out a way to preserve native culture, and the way for our indigenous culture to survive is to become a part of the popular culture.”

Drawing on his exposure to hula and the natural world, Yap says his designs are based on sacred geometry and the repetition of designs in nature reflected in ohe kapala, the bamboo stamps once use to create patterns on kapa, which now inspire his print designs.

Manaola’s Pe’ahi Niu print.

Among his new prints is his first graphic print, that of the peʻahi niu, the crescent-shaped Hawaiian fan reserved for use by the Hawaiian royalty. Made of intricately woven coconut and pandanus leaves, the fans are often depicted in lithographs by high-ranking monarchs for practical and ornamental use. Rare fans are preserved in the collections of Hawaii’s Bishop Museum, as well as the British Museum in London.

“My ideas about fashion began with hula and the importance of adornment put on the body, which is our temple. What we wear attracts and retracts,” he said. “Fast fashion is everywhere, but people are shifting to wanting to put something on their body that has meaning.”

Asialynn Yap delivers a powerful dance performance.

Photos: Presley Ann Photography