Styling by Conn Brattain | Photography by Jose Morales | Hair & Makeup: Ry-n Shimabuku | Model: Aika Erlandson of Larson Talent
Koa Johnson first hit our radar the year he created a sculptural gown for Imua Family Services’ Fantasia Ball. At the 2014 MAMo Wearable Art show on Maui, which spotlighted native Hawaiian fashion designers, Johnson proved himself one of the more imaginative talents — even crafting a form-fitting gown of ti leaves.
Any material is fair game for the young designer’s impromptu creativity. He once grabbed the red plastic tablecloths after a Valentine’s Day party, took them home and transformed them into gowns. He delights, he says, in working with “lots of ruffled layers and evanescent materials.”
Johnson opted to be more conventional with the gowns he created for our fashion shoot — at least in his fabric selection. All three epitomize his penchant for glamor that’s at once edgy and feminine, perfect for making a red-carpet statement.
Johnson earned an associate degree from the University of Hawai‘i-Maui College’s Fashion Technology program in 2011. A year later, he joined the faculty. “His designs are extraordinary,” says mentor Leona Rocha Wilson, who spent decades in New York’s fashion industry. “And he understands the female figure.”
Metallic yarn running through nylon-Lycra fabric creates a sheen that Maui designer Koa Johnson reimagined as coal being compressed into diamonds. To accentuate the model’s feminine curves, Johnson mined the seventeenth-century fashion concept of panniers: side hoops that extend the width of a skirt while keeping front and back silhouettes slim.
White South Sea and Tahitian pearl “Ombre” strand, $2,599; white South Sea pearl strand with 14K white-gold clasp, $2,199; Tahitian pearl strand with 14K white-gold clasp, $1,799; Tahitian pearl earrings with diamonds in 14K white gold, $1,959; multicolored Tahitian pearl bracelet with 14K white-gold clasp, $679; Tahitian pearl bracelet with 14K yellow-gold clasp, $929; white South Sea pearl ring with pave diamonds in 18K white gold, $2,399; Tahitian pearl ring with pave diamonds in 18K yellow gold, $1,899; all by and at Na Hoku, Queen Ka‘ahumanu Center, 275 W. Ka‘ahumanu Ave., Kahului, 808-893-2110; The Shops at Wailea, 3750 Wailea Alanui Dr., Wailea, 808-891-8040; Whalers Village, 2435 Ka‘anapali Pkwy., Ka‘anapali, 808-667-5411; other Hawai‘i locations: nahoku.com
Johnson hand-dyed more than ten yards of rayon knit for this gown whose hip-hugging “mermaid fit” flairs into an extravagantly long train. “I wanted to introduce a plunging neckline that’s risqué and sexy, but not vulgar,” he says.
Collar necklace in 18K white gold with 4.55ctw diamonds; pave slant ring in 18K white gold with 4.56ctw diamonds; 5-row diamond hoop earrings, 3.09ctw, in 18K white gold; 2-strand twisted bracelet in 18K rose and white gold with 7.40ctw diamonds; by Como Italia, prices on request at Baron & Leeds, The Shops at Wailea, 3750 Wailea Alanui Dr., Wailea, 808-874-4900; and Whalers Village, Ka‘anapali Pkwy., Ka‘anapali, 808-661-6806; baronandleeds.com
Sometimes Johnson’s designs evolve after they’ve moved from sketch to fabrication. “This matte dress was going to be A-line,” he says, “but became more fitted.” A late decision was to open the center-front seam, giving the dress more flow. Cordage made of the same knit material connects the plunging neckline in a web of geometric lines meant to suggest a diamond’s facets.
14K white-gold necklace with 28.16ct mixed-shape tanzanite and 13.58ct pave diamonds; 14K white-gold bracelet with 27.27ct mixed-shape tanzanite and 4.37ct round pave diamonds; 18K white-gold ring with 23ct single tanzanite stone and 1.17ct pave diamonds; 14K white-gold earrings with 10.18ct tanzanite stones and .8ct diamonds; prices on request; all by and at Greenleaf Diamonds, The Shops at Wailea, 3750 Wailea Alanui Dr., Wailea, 808-874-1118; greenleafdiamonds.com. Black and clear Lucite Lara clutch by Edie Parker, $995; and Sombry navy leather heels by Giuseppe Zanotti Design, $695; both at 22 Knots, Four Seasons Resort Maui, 3900 Wailea Alanui Dr., Wailea, 808-874-8000; fourseasons.com/maui