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OHA: Office of Hawaiian Affairs

Italian fashion brand REDValentino to collaborate with Native Hawaiian designers

Native Hawaiian designs to be featured on REDValentino’s special capsule collection dedicated to London’s prestigious annual floral art show – Chelsea in Bloom, part of an ongoing partnership between the renowned brand and the Native Hawaiian community

HONOLULU (July 27, 2021)- Three Native Hawaiian designers will be featured in REDValentino’s submission to a prestigious London arts festival this September, as part of an ongoing collaboration between the Italian luxury fashion brand, Maison Valentino, and the Native Hawaiian community.

Kēhaulani Nielson of Kahulaleʻa; Manaola Yap of MANAOLA; and Kini Zamora will each produce a specially designed textile pattern to be incorporated with REDValentino’s ready-to-wear collection. The collection will debut in REDValentino’s display at the Chelsea in Bloom Festival in London.

“It’s exciting to have our culture and art featured alongside some the most respected and famous fashion designers in the world,” Zamora said. “The opportunity to showcase our work at the Chelsea in Bloom Festival raises the profiles of Native Hawaiian designers as well as the growing fashion industry in Hawaiʻi. Hopefully, this will open more doors for us internationally and inspire other young kānaka to chase their dreams.”

The Chelsea in Bloom Festival features a renowned floral art competition among the affluent area’s hotels, restaurants, and retail stores, which includes some of the most influential international fashion brands. With the theme of “Extraordinary Voyages,” this year’s festival is scheduled for Sept. 20 through Sept. 25.

The Native Hawaiian designer project has the full support of REDValentino. The brand is Maison Valentino’s contemporary line, which was founded in 1960 by Italian designer Valentino Garavani. REDValentino and the Native Hawaiian artists collaborated on the designs to be featured at the Chelsea in Bloom Festival. In addition, the final Native Hawaiian designs will be sold at REDValentino’s Ala Moana store and through the brand’s eCommerce.

“It has been a real extraordinary voyage towards appreciation and knowledge. Collaborating with Native Hawaiian creatives was not only a way to foster creativity, but also a means to raise awareness over a mesmerizing and intriguing culture; giving the right recognition, voice and the right meaning for a mutually beneficial exchange. Crossing cultures, meeting halfway to create a superb collaboration. This capsule collection is a dialogue made of common respect – a new language made of the traditional and the contemporary that can definitely be positive and enrich our souls,” said Alessio Vannetti, chief brand officer of Maison Valentino.

“We extend our warmest mahalo (thanks) to REDValentino for this incredible opportunity,” Nielson said. “Our designs may be contemporary, but they follow a long and rich cultural tradition held by our kūpuna (elders) of incorporating our observations of our environment, our spirituality and our moʻolelo (history) into our artistic expressions. The ability to share this aspect of culture with the world is very exciting.”

This ongoing collaboration between REDValentino and the Native Hawaiian community stems from a controversy with the Italian fashion company’s Spring/Summer 2021 collection. In late February, REDValentino released images on its social media of one of its new designs that featured a well-known Native Hawaiian ʻulu (breadfruit) quilting pattern, without acknowledging its origins. The Instagram post received hundreds of comments accusing REDValentino of cultural appropriation.

Shortly thereafter, REDValentino reached out to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) to initiate a dialogue with the Native Hawaiian community. REDValentino also removed the ʻulu design from its online store, but left the Instagram post in the spirit of transparency and accountability.

OHA then connected REDValentino with Vicky Holt Takamine, a respected kumu hula (master hula teacher) and the leader of ‘Īlioʻulaokalani Coalition, a political advocacy group of kumu hula and other cultural practitioners. The coalition has been a leader for more than two decades in protecting Native Hawaiian intellectual property rights. A 2003 conference held by ‘Īlioʻulaokalani led to the development and adoption of the Paoakalani Declaration, a statement affirming the Native Hawaiian people’s collective right, as the creators of their traditional knowledge, to protect their cultural expressions from misuse by individuals who behave disrespectfully and inconsistently with their worldview, customs, and traditions.

The three designers were invited by Takamine, who is also the executive director of PAʻI Foundation and the producer of the annual MAMo Wearable Arts Show – a showcase of Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners – to participate in this collaboration with REDValentino.

Over the next few months, OHA helped facilitate discussions between the ʻĪlioʻulaokalani Coaltion, Native Hawaiian quilters and designers, and REDValentino.

“Involvement with this project is in part due to the goodwill of REDValentino in making things pono (righteous) with the cultural community,” Yap said. “It is important for us to not just take control of our own narratives as Native Hawaiians, but also to uphold the spirit of aloha when people want to make things right. Our ability to move forward as a lāhui is also in our ability to have these conversations and be a part of the solution. We are thrilled and honored to stand together with two other talented designers for the opportunity to share the cultural arts of Hawaiʻi on a global scale.”

“For decades, the Native Hawaiian community has fought to protect our traditions and culture from commercial exploitation by some of the largest corporations in the world,” Takamine said. “From the start, it was clear that this incident was going to result in a positive resolution because REDValentino wanted to make this pono. They were honest and not only said the right things but did the right things.”

OHA CEO/Ka Pouhana Dr Sylvia Hussey agreed. “Principally, the humility and apologetic nature shown by REDValentino in addressing this situation is refreshing, given the long history of antagonistic behavior of executives from other companies that have appropriated Native Hawaiian culture,” Hussey said. “OHA greatly appreciates REDValentino’s efforts in accepting their wrongdoing and committing to working proactively with the Native Hawaiian community to rectify the issue and move forward. Turning a situation that was so negative into something with the potential to be very positive is the general feeling held among participants in these discussions.”

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