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Native Hawaiian designer Kini Zamora has been tapped by Iolani Palace to recreate a handful of royal garments.
He is arguably one of the most popular Project Runway contestants to take to the fashion show's catwalks. But for Kini Zamora, 35, known for his statement-making designs, it's all about his roots.
“My Hawaiian culture, the gorgeous island and my family is put into everything that I make,” he explains. “I feel like with all of that, I have so much inspiration and [many] influences in my designs.”
He came by those strong influences early on in his life, when his Aunty Delilah taught him how to sew at 10 years old. Then, a few years later, a he had a revelation about his skill set. “I also started sketching at a young age, and I realized at the age of 14 that I could press ‘print' on my brain and create 3D images for everyone to see. … I could sketch something and sew it and create it.”
Zamora continued on his path to creating his designs at Honolulu Community College, making a name for himself along the way. Then, in 2014, he appeared on Season 13 of Project Runway. He followed that up with an appearance in Season 5 of Project Runway All Stars. His strong design skills took him to third place in Project Runway and runner-up in All-Stars.
“It was an amazing experience to be put on a global platform and to showcase my work and also to show the world that we have amazing talent here,” he says about his time with the show. “It helped me become a more focused designer and find out what my strong suit was in fashion and basically find out who I am as a designer: A Native Hawaiian designer that designs clothing with cultural influence and drama in every piece I make.”
With his vision focused, Zamora has continued to expand his reach. He offers up a steady output of ready-to-wear designs and is
sought-after for his couture gowns as well—all of which reference his Native Hawaiian culture or his Hawai‘i home. His designs are available at The Clique by Kini Zamora, located in Aiea.
Earlier this year, Iolani Palace tapped him to expand its Alii Garment Reproduction Project.
The commission will have Zamora recreating five garments—including two dresses worn by Queen Kapi‘olani, King Kalakaua's Hawaiian Kingdom military and masonic uniforms and a child's dress worn by Princess Ka‘iulani.
“Many of our ali‘i (Hawaiian royalty) were fashionforward, matching their efforts to remake the Hawaiian Kingdom into a modern nation-state,” says Kippen de Alba Chu, executive director of The Friends of Iolani Palace. “With these additional pieces, our guests will further see the multi-faceted lives of Hawaiian royalty.”
“It's amazing because I can get closer to our ali‘i by just a black-and-white photo and I'm learning and finding out so much about the things they wore,” Zamora explains. “Our ali‘i were very fashionable, had style and wore haute couture gowns.”
First up for the project is the gown that Queen Kapi‘olani wore on February 12, 1883 for her coronation with her husband, King Kalakaua. The original dress was designed by an instructor at Punahou and constructed in Paris. Zamora is tasked with re-creating this Victorian piece that features intricate gold embroidery using modern techniques.
This isn't Zamora's first time working with the palace.
“I had the privilege to have the first fashion show in front of Iolani Palace and it was an honor to spotlight a piece of history for the backdrop of my show,” he says. “We have the only palace in America and sometimes we forget that we have it here. So, I wanted to bring more attention to the place and bring the people back. … It was a ‘chicken skin' moment and I still pinch myself that I had the opportunity to showcase my collection at the palace.”
In addition to his prestigious commission, Zamora remains focused on his vision—and keeping it grounded in his island home. “I will be working on our Hawaii Collection that we release three times a year, possibly launching another Spring/Sumer 2020 collection and bringing more resources to Hawai‘i and making it more accessible for everyone.”
The Clique by Kini Zamora, (808) 202-4471, 99-1132 Iwaena St.,
Kini Zamora at work in his studio with makeup artist, model and photographer.