HI Style


POSTED: Thursday, May 28, 2009

Ralph Malani has never met Brother Noland, but when he heard the musician's song, “;Coconut Girl,”; that might have been the ember of an idea that sparked his current endeavor, as founder of the Hawaii Polynesian Model & Talent agency.




» On TV: “;Dancers in Paradise: Looking for the Next Kim Taylor Reece Model”;: Premieres 6:30 p.m. Saturday on KITV4, airing same time every Saturday through July 25

» Search: Hawaii Polynesian Model & Talent Agency is looking for contestants for its inaugural Miss and Mr. Polynesia competition taking place this fall. Interested individuals can contact the agency via the Web site www.hawaiipolynesianmodels.com.




“;I thought the song was really cool,”; he said. “;I always wanted to see someone from here make it in the high-fashion world. Growing up, I was surrounded by beautiful island women who I thought were prettier than the women on TV, so I always wondered, 'Why not?'”;

He's made it his goal to open eyes around the globe to the beauty of Polynesian women, opening doors for more Pacific Island women to model abroad.

“;One of my biggest pet peeves is that when tourists are welcomed to Hawaii, it's always with a picture of a Filipino girl or a Japanese girl, when there are so many beautiful Hawaiian girls,”; he said. “;I think most local agencies have their three token Hawaiian-looking models, but for the most part, they're still catering to a Japanese tourist market.”;

With two other local-born creatives—makeup artist Cassandra, a member of Janet Jackson's touring Glam Squad, and photographer Helene DeLillo, who has shot celebrity images for MTV Networks, Warner Music Group, Entertainment Weekly and Rolling Stone—Malani also wants to shatter the stereotypical image of the islander as associated with tourism campaigns of the past.

Malani, who is a hair and wardrobe stylist for Raiatea Helm, and an “;elite stylist”; at The Aveda Salon at Ala Moana Center, has worked the back stages of New York and LA Fashion Week runway shows, as well as the Academy Awards and Grammy shows. His models have already worked in L.A., Tahiti and for Brazilian designer Chris Barreto. The experiences have fueled his desire to see Polynesian models on New York's runways, which in recent years have been dominated by Eastern European and Brazilian models.

“;What's happening on the runways and in the media is they're getting more culturally diverse,”; said DeLillo. “;Ralph's models all have a look that's hip in New York and LA. It's really now.”;

“;Kea Ho gets lots of work in LA,”; Malani said. “;They love her there, but no one has ever used her here.”;

AS STRONGLY as Malani feels about Hawaii representation in the fashion world, none of this may have happened without a push from one of his friends, photographer Guy Sibilla.

Having listened to Malani's impassioned rants over time, “;He's the one who went out to get the license, got all the paper work, came in and handed it all to me in a folder, and said, 'You're in business.' He even named the company in a way where there's no mistaking what we do. If it were left up to me, I probably would have chosen a Hawaiian name and people in LA would have been going, 'What does that mean?' So, he was right.

“;I probably would not have done this at all if not for Guy. I probably would have given the idea away. I've had a lot of ideas over the years that have made other people wealthy, but this feels like it was meant to be. Before my Web site went up, I got a movie.”;

The startup of Hawaii Polynesian Model & Talent coincided with the local filming of the Rob Schneider-Mena Suvari film, “;You May Not Kiss the Bride,”; and 24 of the agency's then 27 models were picked up as extras for the production. The agency started with eight female models but has expanded to include men.

“;I knew we had the look, and most of my models are also performers in Waikiki, so they're very comfortable in front of an audience.”;

He and some of his model/dancers are currently working on the Hawaii-based TV competition “;Dancers in Paradise,”; during which 12 dancers vie to become photographer Kim Taylor Reece's next model. The show premieres on Saturday. And come fall, he plans to stage the first Miss and Mr. Polynesia pageant. He's searching for contestants.

The jobs have also opened his models' eyes to their capabilities.

“;For some of them, they've been wearing the coconut bra for so long, they think that's all they can do. But there's so much more. I want to represent them in a way that's not your typical, cheesy tourist-oriented way.”;