For designer Manaola Yap, intention is everything. As a hula practitioner, his designs are founded in generations of cultural tradition passed down from his ‘ohana (family). To honor his ancestors and their profound native wisdom, each dynamic MANAOLA runway show begins with traditional hula protocol and transitions into modern fashion innovation.
Yap’s New York Fashion Week presentation opens with an oli pā’ū or vestige chant used to bring inten- tion to the art of cultural dressing. This chant, “Kākua Pā’ū” describes the physical act of the ‘ōlapa (dancer) tying on their pā’ū (skirt) in preparation for performance. It is also a means of mentally, spiritually and emotionally readying themselves for the purpose of the dance as well. Yap explains:
“For me as an artist and fashion designer, I like to take that ‘ike kūpuna (native wisdom) and implement it into my print designs as en element of balance to drawing energies into the pattern. This is also the same for hula. We practice ‘aiha’a,–which means to be humble, to lower oneself or to be consumed,– where we physically lower ourselves into a low stance so that we can be humbled and consumed by the spirit of the dance. That’s how I view fashion…through the perspective of hula, culture and spirituality.”
After Yap’s oli, his sister Asialynn Yap of Hālau Manaola will channel the rain incantation “Hi’uolani I Ka Ua O Hilo.” Adorned in hand-stamped kahiko (ancient) attire as an homage to the tradition of Hawaiian bark cloth which inspire MANAOLA’s designs. The garment is used as a vehicle to transport the dancer through time and space to connect for the spiritual purpose of the oli. This particular dance honors the spiritual town of Hilo on Hawai’i Island and the sacred rains that gather to cleanse and offer blessings.
“Hilo is a very spiritual place for us as Hawaiians as well as the phase of the new moon cycle, represent- ing new beginnings and growth. In ancient times when people went to Hilo they went to renew them- selves and to garner new energy. People went to bathe in the healing waters of Mokuola. This particular dance is done during the makahiki season (wet season) to call the rain to this special place. In this performance the dancer embodies all the elemental cycles of the Hilo and Puna districts’ wind and rain.”
The namesake of the designer, ‘ōlelo Hawai’i (Hawaiian language) translates “manaola” as “life force,” and thus the hand-crafted efforts of Yap’s creative expression transfer his own heartfelt mana (power) into his design process, ensuring quality and intention from the artist himself. Through this fundamental con- cept, Yap offers a rare perspective on indigenous art through the lens of fashion. He showcases the beauty of Hawaiian kapa (native bark cloth) adornment and the tradition of ‘ohe kāpala (bamboo stamping).
Often telling a story of Hawaiian history, mythology or natural beauty, Yap hand-carves original prints onto bamboo which are inspired by repetitious patterns found in nature he deems “sacred geometry” to adorn the body. Through the lens of hula, Yap brings purpose into fashion with prints intended for heal- ing, strength and abundance, to name a few, and represents the innate Hawaiian values that nurtured his creative expressions.