Couture designer Anne NambaBy Cynthia Oi
does her own special dance with
'The Nutcracker,' behind the
scenes creating costumes
YOU ALWAYS REMEMBER YOUR first love and Anne Namba is again waltzing with hers. The island fashion designer, whose creations grace racks at Liberty House and Neiman Marcus as well as her own Manoa shop, has choreographed a dazzling troupe of costumes for Ballet Hawaii's presentation of "The Nutcracker."
When Namba says she made the 13 gowns -- seven for girls and six for women in the ballet's party scene -- she really means that.
She researched and conceived the designs, searched for fabric and trims, and draped ribbons to skirts, stitched ruffles to necklines and tucked frills to shoulders.
Each gown is a detailed piece of art. Tiny pearls grid the bodice and roses cascade from the waist of a peach gown. Sequins shower the skirt of another in deep purple.
Ballet Hawaii executive director Steve Knox is delighted.
"I knew that because Anne was making them, they would be beautiful, but they exceeded by far what I thought they'd be," Knox said.
"They are wonderful eye-fill for the audience, but they also make the dancers feel great, elegant," he said.
The project was "so much fun," Namba said, even though she had to work weekends and evenings because her day hours are taken up by her fashion business.
"Costumes are actually my first love," she said.
Namba studied costume designing at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, then started in the fashion industry in the city, working for different manufacturers, making "everything from budget blouses to maternity wear to sports wear."
She also created costumes when she worked Radio City Music Hall, but costuming "is a hard business, even harder than the fashion business, if you can imagine that," she laughed.
Not that she isn't used to hard work. In the past 13 years, Namba has diligently built a successful fashion line with a distinctive Asian tone.
"I've always liked Asian things," said the half-Korean, half Japanese Kalani High graduate, "and I wanted to start my own business.
"I decided to move back to Hawaii where I have my family and friends and security -- where somebody would always feed me."
By combining vintage Japanese fabrics with fresh designs, Namba's fashions stood apart from others and women sought out her pieces at her Manoa studio.
About eight years ago, she approached Liberty House about selling her clothing.
"We thought the only chance we had to get in was through their resort stores," she recalled.
Lavina Wong, Liberty House's fashion and special events director, paid her a visit.
"She came down to our studio and she said, 'I need to bring in the Crest Room buyer.' And we were like, whoa! Crest Room! Scored! We were really happy and proud. It was a big, big deal."
She's been connected with Liberty House since. Today, her signature line holds center stage in the store's Viewpoint department, with other designers, such as Donna Karan, on the wings.
Namba connected with Ballet Hawaii through her daughter, Roxy, who took classes with the company.
"I was a just a ballet mom," she said, but when Roxy was cast in a production, "they asked me if I could help them spruce up the outfit."
"They gave it to me in a trash bag and that's where it remained. I totally remade the whole thing. That was the start of it."
The next year the ballet asked her to help with more costumes, so she took on the women's and girls' gowns for "The Nutcracker" party scene.
The adult costumes cost about $1,000 to make, the girls' about $500. The money came from individual and corporate donations, Knox said.
Namba used good fabrics and materials in constructing the costumes so they would last. "They will use these probably for the next decade," she said.
Before designing the gowns, she researched the style of women's clothing in the 1850s and 1860s "because it was a romantic, glamorous period."
"I wanted to do the hoop skirts because on stage -- the movement would be most dramatic," she said.
The problems were that dresses of that time draped off the shoulders, which would limit dancers' arm movements, and beads and sequins weren't widely used, which wouldn't do for the stage "where you want glitter and shine," Namba said.
"So I took a little creative license," she laughed.
"The actual construction took the most time because of all the details," she said.
"I'm like a dancer who spends hours rehearsing and rehearsing, and you're so tired and it's a drag, but the night of the performance, all the hard work pays off."
And costume-making is a lot of fun, Namba said.
"With fashion, you have to be practical, you have to worry about what season it is, you have to worry about comfort level, about mixing and matching.
"With costumes, it's pure fantasy."
Preview: Preview: 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. tomorrow, dancers from Ballet Hawaii perform, Liberty House, Ala Moana
Trunk show: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. tomorrow, with designer Anne Namba, Liberty House, Ala Moana
Costume display: Through Dec. 10, Liberty House
Performance "The Nutcracker," with dancers from the American Ballet Theatre, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 17 and 18, 2 p.m. Dec. 19, Blaisdell Concert Hall. Tickets, $15-$45; $5 discount for students and seniors; Blaisdell box office or TicketPlus at 526-4400; $10 discount when ordering tickets at special phone near the costume display. Information: 988-7578.
On Kauai: 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 11, 2 p.m. Dec. 12, Kauai Community College Performing Arts Center. Tickets, $8-$18. Call: 1-808-245-8270.
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