CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
In the center, Crazy/Beautiful owner Thoai Tran Nguyen wears a top by Under ($40) and earrings by Ginger13 ($62). At left, Mary Ropta is in an LA Made dress ($64) and Crazy/Beautiful necklace and earring set ($18). And in the foreground, Malia Surell wears an ensemble by Sole Mio of LA, at $48 for the jacket, $32 for the shirt and $44 for the shorts. Her Crazy/Beautiful belt is $22 and necklace is $18.
Fashion takes root at The Row
Young entrepreneurs choose the site for clothing boutiques
INSIDE CRAZY/BEAUTIFUL, the boutique Thoai Tran Nguyen owns with her cousin Vince Carpenter, Nguyen is feeling a bit nostalgic for high school, when dressing was risk-free and easy.
'THE WOMEN'S CLOSET'
Fashion show by Taryn Ogawa, plus sales of clothing by J. Boudoir, Corsetiere, Crazy/Beautiful, Second Skin and MisFortune; jewelry from Ginger 13; and purses and fine household goods from Eiselin Imports
Place: O Lounge, 1349 Kapiolani Blvd.
When: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday
Admission: $10 in advance, $15 at the door
Call: 944-THE0 (8436)
Since opening her boutique at Restaurant Row nine months ago, she's already been through about five phases, starting with the bohemian look last summer, then getting into '80s redux, buttoned-up librarian, rocker shirts and now shorts.
Such is the speed of cycles that signal to the rest of the world whether one's in or out, whereas back in high school, she said, "I was totally mod and that lasted a long time. I always wore black, always."
But that was in the late '80s, when fashion changed but people didn't, mostly due to a lack of exposure to fashion news. Today, with no shortage of trend stories on TV, glossy mags and on the street, those with an interest in clothes are no longer content to follow, trying instead to set trends, anticipate them or ignore them.
That's what Nguyen sees in her customers. To be perfectly in sync with a trend, after all, is to be behind the curve.
"Everything moves so fast now. There's no way anyone can keep up, so they're totally trying to do their own thing," she said. "That's why I don't shop anywhere else, only here or my friends' stores, because if you see what everyone else is doing, you know, you try to copy."
Crazy/Beautiful will be among the featured boutiques at the "The Women's Closet," a daytime fashion event Sunday at the O Lounge, including a runway show featuring the designs of Taryn Ogawa; sales of up to 75 percent off on clothing, jewelry and accessories; and wine and food tastings.
Nguyen opened the boutique after working at a string of teen-oriented mall stores. She's among the handful of young entrepreneurs who have opened stand-alone boutiques over the past two years, introducing an independent vibe that's been missing from the local clothing scene.
"I love clothes. Everything is definitely a reflection of my taste," Nguyen said. "Luckily, some people share the same taste."
Her prices are kept low to cater to consumers always on the lookout for something new. Those who expect to see $125 or $160 on a price tag for a shirt or dress are often pleasantly surprised to find $32 or $48 instead. Items are priced to move, to keep up with new shipments every six weeks. Next to arrive will be a shipment of dresses, but she admits shopping for the many is considerably more difficult than shopping for herself.
"I like the fashion end, but the business aspect -- I hate it, I hate it, but I have to do it."
RESTAURANT ROW was never much of a dining hot spot, with restaurants regularly coming and going, but it just might find new life as Fashion Row. In addition to Crazy/Beautiful, newcomers include the Blue Buddha, for menswear, and Eiselin Imports, focusing on furniture and accessories for the home and, most recently, for women.
Eiselin's owner, Allen Jan Eiselin, says he's no designer "type," having studied business, not art or design. But with purses made to his specifications flying out the door, he cheerfully owns up to the fact, "I never thought of myself as a designer, but guess I am!"
It's all the more incredible because his only experience with handbags has been, like most guys, being occasionally forced to carry one to lighten the load of or allow a woman friend to shop, hands-free.
Eiselin, whose handbags will also be featured at "The Women's Closet" event, grew up on the Big Island and moved to Oahu to attend the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where he graduated in 2004 with a degree in business. He got a job in the hotel industry before reconnecting with relatives in Indonesia. He spent four months there, looking at products and studying business opportunities.
He started a wholesale business, selling rough-woven cotton curtains on the Big Island, and riding the boom of home sales and development, before moving back to Oahu for greater opportunities. After a while, he also discovered a consumer demand for teak furniture and started importing that as well, setting up shop inexpensively at the Aloha Stadium swap meet before opening his Restaurant Row shop.
His success, he says, is merely due to his ability to listen to people.
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Allen Eiselin in his Restaurant Row shop, Eiselin Imports, with some of the handbags he designed.
"People would tell me their ideas, and nine out of 10 people wouldn't listen but I do. So I'd come back (with what they imagined), and that's what blows them away."
After designing custom curtains, it wasn't a big leap to use the same fibers to create handbags that started with little drawings he made while working side by side with seamstresses and manufacturers. He'd specify materials for handles and buttons and by talking to women, discovered what they loved and hated about bags on the market.
"Someone told me women like pockets with their purse, so I have one with a zippered pocket between two compartments.
"I'll bring someone with me when I go to the factory to model the purse. That way, I can look at the length of the strap, ask, 'How does that feel?'
"I just started with a couple designs, and I thought I'd try it but they really caught on. They're really for everyday use, for shopping. They're really practical, and at $10 to $25, I wanted to keep it affordable.
"Now I've got more ideas, more focus. I'm getting a new shipment in next month."
And one thing he does know as a guy, "Believe it or not, guys buy a lot of purses, too. They always ask me what they should buy for their wives or girlfriend, but I just tell them to bring her in and see what she looks at.
"And if they still buy the wrong thing, I have a good return policy."