For the love of alohawear

Couture Designer Jeffrey Yoshida celebrates alohawear with his signature style uniting elegance and a hint of vintage.

Text by Anna Harmon
Image by John Hook

“Every generation of women wants to have their Audrey Hepburn moment,” said Jeffrey Yoshida, sitting on a couch in the home he grew up in at the heart of Kalihi with soft jazz crooning in the background. Steam from a cup of freshly poured green tea wafted from the low coffee table. “So I thought, ‘How fun would it be if I created that dress, but in the right Hawaiian print that was a little vintage and modern looking?’” To his left, an off-the-shoulder dress in a simple, retro aloha print with a slim waist, a full knee-length skirt, and petticoats hung on a dress form. “That’s so a Grace Kelly dress,” he said. The design – one of several in his rotating collection – brought charming clarity to his Hepburn reference in a city where dressing for winter involves “people wearing their Las Vegas leather jackets over their shorts,” as he joked.

This 51-year-old local couture designer flies under the radar in his hometown of Honolulu, handcrafting glamorous aloha, evening, and bridal wear on order-only basis. He has done so for 13 years, since returning to take care of his ailing parents after 16 years working on 7th Avenue in the New York City fashion district, where he began making his signature retro-inspired aloha dresses.

A gentle charm and kindness is part of Yoshida’s demeanor, and his personal elegance is communicated through his creations. Since his Grace Kelly comment last year, Yoshida has relocated to Kapahulu, and his direction has shifted from petticoats to the feel of the late ’50s early ’60s. Most recently, while scouring Pinterest, Yoshida found his muse in a vintage pattern for a halter-top wrap dress with a narrower skirt and adjustable fitted waist. On several occasions in the last year, he has been contacted to make bridesmaids dresses. Understandably, the couture designer is scheming a return to wedding wear, with aloha shirts made of silk crepe, pantsuits, and bridal with a mix-and-match, vintage twist. “I’ve always loved bridal, even my retro Hawaiian things were done off of my bridal pattern. I just changed fabrication,” he said. “Especially now, after gay marriage has passed, I want to be able to do wedding clothing for anyone who comes.”

These days, Yoshida is on the hunt for a studio of his own in Chinatown or Kaka‘ako, where he will display samples, bridal couture, and even sell some off-the-rack pieces. And as always, he continues to make that ever-elusive women’s elegant aloha attire.

“It would be so easy to say ‘Oh, alohawear is something in a Hawaiian print,’ but I don’t think that’s necessarily it at all,” he said. “I think it’s really more of the feeling of how we live here on the islands.” In Waikīkī, with palm trees swaying and waves tumbling just blocks away, Tiffany’s towering doors and shining windows beckon to those with a Jeffrey Yoshida design hanging in their closets, awaiting a tropical recreation of the famous Hepburn scene.