Enter the boutiques


POSTED: Thursday, December 03, 2009

Artists have been trying to turn downtown Honolulu into a cultural and artistic hot spot for more than 40 years, but it's only since the startup of The ARTS at Marks Garage, the addition of youth-friendly bars and nightclubs, and the launch of First Friday a few years ago that the desire has become reality.

The galleries—with their swirl of shows, events and visual delights—have done so well that we've now entered into Phase 2 of the colonization/gentrification process, or whatever you want to call it. It happens in a lot of cities where there is urban blight. Artists move in to a grimy area, make it the cool place to be, and before you know it, it's safe and clean for other kinds of commerce and consumers.

In this case, enter the boutiques. It started with a trickle a few years ago when Urban Nomad, since shuttered, moved from Hotel onto Smith Street, Fighting Eel opened its headquarters at 47 Hotel St., and Rafael briefly operated on Pauahi Street.

With other businesses closing due to the economy, it's been a perfect time for the new guard to swoop in.

For many, tomorrow's First Friday will offer a first glimpse into these boutiques.




Roberta Oaks

19 N. Pauahi St.

Designer Roberta Oaks said she never intended to open a store, but she felt an epiphany while driving out of the Beretania Street municipal garage one day and spotting a “;For Rent”; sign straight ahead.

“;I had to move out of my shipping/warehouse space, and I realized how much I missed being in touch with customers. I miss the interaction, so this will open the door again. I'll have a place to work and a place to do events.”;

About two-thirds of her new space will be a workshop, and the front is where she'll be selling her feminine dresses and separates.

“;The idea for the space is that it's going to be a gathering place and a place to express myself creatively to the public, because I do other kinds of art, too.”;

The design of the boutique was inspired by a stark piece of driftwood she found years ago, which has been a focal point for other art projects as well.

For now, she envisions opening the boutique from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and by appointment.

“;I'll see how that goes and fine-tune as I go along.”;


Fashionista's Market

1183 Bethel St. / 537-1115

Alyssa Fung had been running Fashionista's Market as a quarterly shopping event for four years, but for much of her clientele, it wasn't enough.

She said they wanted to shop on their own terms, to show up as early or late as they wanted, whenever they felt the need to shop, rather than be tied to specific dates and hours.

So Fung decided it was time to put down some roots. She still plans to host sales events twice a year, on the same scale as past traveling sample sales, as well as annual Closet Swap events, but for those who need more frequent fashion fixes, Fashionista's Market now has a home on the Beretania end of Bethel Street.

Shoppers can still find trendy dresses, separates and accessories. Some of the dominant lines include Voom, Romeo & Juliet Couture, Yag Couture, e-Klah, Rubber Ducky, Ark & Co. and Oxford Circus. There's also a rack devoted to consignment garments.

The shop will host its grand opening tomorrow, with cocktails, pupu and a candy bar open from 5 to 11 p.m.

Having the boutique means she's now able to keep merchandise moving all year-round, whereas before, without an outlet between major events, she said, “;Girls would see the same things three months later.

“;It's also a lot less stressful without having to worry whether people would come to the events. It was always about timing. The turnout depended on what else was going on around town at the time.

“;I'm a lot busier. I'm in the shop every day. But I like the daily one-on-one with clients. I really enjoy it but I miss saying, 'I don't feel like working today. I think I'm going to the beach.'”;



1164 Smith St. / 225-2727

Sisters Suzanna Kuhlemann and Pia Kuhlemann Boone already had creative businesses before deciding to form a partnership that would bring an Old World sensibility to the retail realm.

Hailing from Germany, they grew up shopping at small, unique boutiques, where they could speak to owners and creators, and can't relate to America's mall culture, which separates consumers from creators.

“;That's why we've always loved Chinatown. It feels very authentic,”; Pia said. “;Our idea was to have a workspace/showroom in one, for people who like to see how things are made, how they're not mass-produced.”;

ETown is now home to Pia's SooZou line of sturdy totes, clutches and accessories created from recycled sails, as well as Suzanna's vintage-inspired line of aloha wear, 1979, reflecting her longtime fascination with Hawaii style. The theme of her master's thesis was an abstract interpretation of Hawaiian elements and prints. Her line comprises sophisticated retro/modern swimwear, and rompers fashioned from vintage and recycled men's aloha shirts.

In addition to displaying their own lines and working in the space, the sisters carry local jewelry lines and aim to host featured designers' wares monthly.

“;We see it as a little bit of a gallery. It keeps things interesting because we'll always have different products.”;

On First Friday, the boutique will feature eight designers and a “;Santa First Friday”; Sweepstakes. Leave your Christmas wish for eTown's Santa, and it may come true when three winners' names are drawn. Visit www.etownstudios.com.


Here Today, Gone to Maui

1138 Smith St.

Kate Burlingame started marketing vintage apparel online a few years ago. When the space next to Ramsay Gallery opened, she grabbed it to give the real-world experience a try.

She's already encouraged, saying, “;I've done more business here in four days than I have online.”;

Shoppers will find vintage and secondhand apparel, from T-shirts to fall jackets, with most items priced between $10 and $30 and some special items priced at about $100.

“;If I had my way, everything would be about $3, but I have to be realistic,”; she said.

Other items in the boutique include pottery and ceramic ware, and she'll soon be adding handmade jewelry to the mix. Displays will make way for a small jazz band on First Friday.