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.,

Cour­tesy photo

Kini Zamora

Den­nis Oda photo

Kini Zamora at work in his stu­dio with makeup artist, model and pho­tog­ra­pher.

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