San Francisco Chronicle: Hawaiian Culture Inspires Manaola Yap Couture

San Francisco Chronicle: Hawaiian Culture Inspires Manaola Yap Couture
by Leilani Marie Labong

Rare is the gift of waxing poetic about your work, at least to the extent that Hawaiian designer Manaola Yap can carry on.

But Yap’s rhapsodies seem to be a reflection less of his ego than his reverence for Hawaii and its native art forms. As a lifelong student of hula (his mother is a well-known Hawaiian-song chanteuse and kumu, or teacher of hula) and daily paddler (canoeing has been a Hawaiian tradition since A.D. 200), Yap has been gathering inspiration for his clothing line, Manaola Hawaii, for as long as he can remember.

Known for his “sacred geometry,” Yap interprets the landscape and flora of the islands with strong tribal motifs that he emblazons on effortless silhouettes with hand-carved bamboo stamps.



“We adorn our bodies with clothes that will enhance and protect our spirit,” says Yap, who learned how to create kapa — Hawaiian textiles made from pounded tree bark — from artisans in his family.

From performers with Hawaii in their blood to those with Hawaii in their heart, the Bay Area hosts a rainbow of artistry. Here are some reasons to visit.

The Nanaka print, for instance, is derived from the bumpy hull of ulu, or breadfruit, a staple of the Hawaiian diet that represents growth and abundance. Look for this print on the new Hilo dress, transformable into a few different looks, depending on where you tie the knot.

The Niho Kū pattern, a repeating series of triangles, was inspired by the jagged lava rocks on the Kohala coast of Hawaii Island, from where Yap hails (though these days he makes his home on Oahu). It can be seen on everything from restaurant napkins and spa linens at the new Four Seasons Ko Olina, where Yap is a cultural ambassador, to leather stiletto heels.

“The first of their kind in Hawaiian fashion history,” says Yap, whose fall-winter 2016 collection — featuring women’s rayon bomber jackets, men’s jogger pants, and even western-style shirts in an autumnal palette that ranges from mustard to potter’s clay — can be found exclusively at Hula Lehua in Ala Moana Center.

“I’m always trying to push the envelope.”