The Mena wedding dress featured in the film "Sione's Wedding (Samoan Wedding)." Dresses retail for about $180 to $220. Evening muumuus are about $290, and separates run $120 to $160.
An island view
The Loheni sisters of the Samoan-based clothing line Mena, understand the plight of every Hawaii designer trying to find recognition beyond island shores.
Mena Fashion and Film Event
Featuring fashion show, screening of "Samoan Wedding" and music by Afatia:
Place: The O Lounge, 1349 Kapiolani Blvd.
Time: 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday
Admission: $15 ($20 at the door). Tickets available through Saturday at Soleil boutique, 909 Kapahulu Ave. No. 7 (same building as Karaoke Hut), or charge at 735-5360.
"The mainstream market's first impulse is to put you in a box and call what you do ethnic clothing," said Agnes Loheni by phone interview Tuesday, a day after arriving in Honolulu for the first time.
Pacific islands aren't exactly the first place people look to for fashion due to weather, lifestyle and a historical lack of resources. Before Western contact, clothing was made of bark fibers rather than more pliable, design-friendly cloth. And Agnes said the staple of Samoan dress continues to be the two-piece "puletasi," consisting of a top and straight skirt.
But islanders everywhere are catching up quickly, and the Lohenis -- Gina, Charlene, Jackie and Agnes -- have set no less a goal than conquering the globe with a more modern take on Polynesian style.
"We want to create a style that can fit anyone anywhere and that they can feel comfortable wearing," said Agnes, who spent some time living in London and traveling throughout Europe, and sees no reason Mena designs wouldn't work throughout the U.K. and United States.
"Growing up, it was normal for us to design our own clothes by looking at pictures in magazines. We couldn't go out and buy the exact clothing, but we could go purchase fabric and our mom could make it for us.
"We never put any limits on ourselves as far as what we could achieve in clothing."
Mena's Hibiscus dress.
The line is named after the sisters' mother, a seamstress who started a tailoring business in Apia about seven years ago. The Mena label started in 2002, when Jackie started creating original prints, full of color and floral imagery, that became instant hits.
It wasn't long before Mena designs were sweeping the islands, from New Zealand to Rarotonga to Fiji, and now Hawaii, through Soleil boutique, which is staging a fashion show Sunday night at the O Lounge to introduce the line. The event will also feature the screening of the feature film "Sione's Wedding (Samoan Wedding)," in which Mena designs, including the wedding dress in the final scene, are worn by the character Princess, played by New Zealand-based Samoan actress Maryjane McKibbin-Schwenke, who recommended the line for the film.
As quickly as the line has grown, its production continues to be a family affair, with facilities housed on the ground floor of the family home in Apia. All Mena designs are also hand-cut, hand-sewn and hand-painted so that each garment is unique.
"Our mom is still working, and she talks about being able to retire soon. I think she's just pleased that we're all working together.
Mena's Elsie dress.
The Mena line will be available at Soleil beginning Monday.