Nakeʻu Awai is a well-respected Hawaiʻi fashion icon whose first love was, and still is, theater.
After graduating from Kamehameha Schools and receiving a degree in drama from the University of Washington in Seattle, Nakeʻu lived a busy, exciting life as a dancer and performer, living and traveling in New York, Europe, and Los Angeles.
In the 1960s, even though Nakeʻu had no formal training as a designer, a choreographer in L.A. encouraged him to try costume design, which led him to the world of fashion.
After working with Bob Mackie and other big names in fashion, Nakeʻu returned home to Oʻahu in the early 1970s where he established his own fashion line and married the knowledge and experience he had gained with Hawaiian culture.
Hawaiʻi’s First Native Hawaiian Fashion Designer
Often touted as the Grandfather of Hawaiʻi fashion, Nakeʻu was the first Hawaiian designer to locally create prints using native and indigenous flora as inspiration (what’s come to be known as “Hawaiian print”).
He also produced the first muʻumuʻu (a loose gown) and holokū (a loose, seamed dress with a yoke and train) to be sold commercially at Carol and Mary, an iconic women’s fashion store at the time, and the Liberty House department store, making Hawaiian fashion accessible to the masses.
Through trial and error, determination and an indominable creative spirit, Nakeʻu has made his mark on Hawaiʻi’s fashion industry. Today, he is seen as a mentor whose support and encouragement to other local designers, artists, and crafts people reflects his strong sense of Hawaiʻi. Nake‘u has a long history working with Sig Zane, Danene Lunn of Manuhealiʻi and Manaola Yap of Manaola Hawai‘i.