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Thursday, September 9, 2004



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CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Eileen Tokita is surrounded by a few crystal purses she hand crafts using a setting technique she describes as therapeutic. Tokita has about 80 in her personal collection.


Bags of dazzle

Eileen Tokita's meticulous work with
crystals adds pizazz to ordinary purses




Jeweled Pillbox Class

When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 18

Where: Governor's Suite, Kahala Mandarin

Admission: $100, includes supplies and lunch at the Veranda

Call: Gale Nishida at 739-8626 for reservations


Eileen Tokita is passionate when it comes to purses. Especially, the glitzy, sparkly ones that are as much about form as function. "Being a former entertainer, I guess I have always loved glitz," said Tokita, who worked her way through college as a nightclub singer with her band.

She started designing her handbags, inspired by renowned designer Judith Lieber, more than 18 years ago. "I was sitting at a restaurant in Beverly Hills having lunch, and this woman walked in carrying a jeweled bag," she said. The woman was celebrating her birthday and opened her presents, which included two more of Lieber's bags.

"I was going to have this kind of collection, one way or another," Tokita said.

Coming up with another way was crucial, as she soon discovered the jeweled Lieber creations, available at such upscale stores as Neiman Marcus, easily sell for $1,000 to $5,000.

Tokita, who is already known in Hawaii for her jeweled egg creations, discovered she could transfer her skills to purses that could be made for $250 to $350.

Tokita is sharing her talent for bag making next weekend by teaching a class in the Governor's Suite at the Kahala Mandarin. Students will create a jeweled elephant pillbox using crystals. The miniature boxes cost $70 to $100 to make.

"The pillbox is a great way to get started. They find out if they have the temperament to make a larger purse," said Tokita. "She (Lieber) started decorating with jewels because her (metal-frame) bags came in damaged. The same shaped bag can be transformed using a variety of patterns. It's really up to your imagination," said Tokita.

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CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Tokita's personal collection includes the disco purse, above, which she uses when she goes dancing. Disco purses are popular on the mainland, she said, but have not yet caught on in Hawaii.


Once the crystal-setting technique is mastered, students can transfer their skills to other objects such as pens, picture frames, lipstick holders, pins and eyeglass frames, to name a few possibilities.

Anyone can learn the art but patience is a must.

"My son has helped me make bags since he was 8 years old. You need to be patient and detail-oriented," she said, believing that details are what give creations their value.

"My son even made a pair of jeweled shoes for me," she said, while warning that the art form isn't suited for objects meant for active wear. "When I am dancing with some dork, and he steps on my feet ... it's at least an hour of repair work."

TOKITA TAKES ABOUT 12 to 15 hours to make one purse. Many of them require a base paint that adds drying time to the creation process, but she reasons, "If I make a strawberry, it is better to paint the bag red rather than gluing the red stones onto a gold bag."

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CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Tokita's personal collection includes the goldfish purse above, which she says remind her of koi. Its colors are symbolic of good luck.


When working out a purse's design before finalizing it with glue, "The best thing to put the stones on is uncooked spaghetti," she said. "Jewelry wax gets gummy and tacky."

Tokita favors Swarovski crystals for her masterpieces because of their exceptional colors, resembling polished gem stones.

She's noted that sparkly disco bags are a new craze. "They are a hot trend on the mainland," she said while observing, "I don't think it has caught on here."

But Tokita's sparkling creations should fit right in with the opulence of the coming fall dress-up season.

Tokita's exquisite collection of minaudi¸re -- or dramatic jeweled evening bags -- includes an array of designs, from a simple strawberry to intricately patterned purses. With about 80 different purses in her personal collection, she is always ready to shine at any celebration, whether she's carrying a goldfish, a slice of kiwi or lucky cat.

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CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Eileen Tokita's crystal purse collection includes the Neko cat, above. It takes her about 12 to 15 hours to make one purse.


"I always use them when I go on cruises," she said. "Once (acquaintances) see a couple of my bags, they look to see what clothes I am wearing and what bag I'll be carrying," she laughed.

Tokita said many of her most successful students find the monotony of setting the crystals therapeutic. "The class is such an escape," she said, noting that most people don't have the luxury of staying in a $3,700-a-night suite that will be her classroom.

"It's away from the hustle and bustle of Waikiki," she said while describing such other perks as refreshments served on silver vessels, a curry bar lunch, and break times that might involve walks around the lush grounds or dolphin visits.

"It's better than going to an outer island," she said.



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