Since 2010, Alyson Helwagen has been the publisher of Honolulu magazine, the city’s monthly glossy for residents. Before joining the magazine, Helwagen, originally from Columbus, Ohio, founded and edited LeiChic.com, an email and shopping website about Hawaii’s boutiques, designers and shopping trends. (She later sold the website to Pacific Basin Communications, the parent company of Honolulu magazine.) Honolulu magazine is a founding partner of Honolulu Fashion Week.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Q: In what ways does Honolulu Fashion Week celebrate Hawaii’s rich culture?
A: We showcase Hawaii’s culture by spotlighting how so many local designers interpret it – the graphic prints they design, the modern riffs on traditional wear like the muumuu and the functional apparel they design for activities that reflect Hawaii like surfing and paddling.
Q: How has Hawaii fashion scene changed and grown?
A: It’s evolved beyond bikinis and Aloha shirts, even in just recent years. When I started Lei Chic in 2007, it was because I saw all these small local brands, and I wanted to know more, and also tell everyone else! And in the nine years since, there have been a lot of those designers who are now successful on a scale far beyond Hawaii. And there are so many more brands and designers that have come about, and they are doing stuff from both ends of the spectrum. There’s luxe swimwear like Malia Jones, modern fresh takes on Alohawear like Manuhealii and SaltLiko to edgier stuff like Kini Zamora and Ari South.
Q: Why is it important that Honolulu, and to a greater extent Hawaii, host a fashion week?
A: Hawaii has a fashion legacy. We have apparel that is ours and ours only, such as the Aloha shirt and the Hawaiian print. We have such a thriving local fashion scene, from legacy fashion labels to up and coming designers. It’s a vibrant industry with some incredible talent.
Q: How is Honolulu’s fashion week different and what makes this event unique?
A: Most fashion weeks around the world are trade and media events—the designers put on a show and in the audience are buyers, from retail clients and media. Our event has always been a consumer event. We want residents and visitors to come see the runway shows. We also have a marketplace—essentially a collection of about 60 pop-up boutiques from local designers—where attendees can buy things from the designers they see on the runway. Usually, at other fashion weeks, the collection you see on the runway doesn’t hit stores for six months. Designers have started to move toward a see it now/buy it now model where they show what is currently for sale. Social media has kind if made this critical for fashion brands to do. Honolulu Fashion Week has always been a see it now/ buy it now kind of event. So we are ahead of the curve!
Q: Now in its third year, how has the Honolulu Fashion Week transformed? What’s in store for its future?
A: We are getting a little bigger and a little better each year. We are adding more runway shows each year, more brands and more days. And we are attracting national and international designers as well as some retail heavyweights. This year, we have Marisa Webb and Asaf Ganot from New York doing a show, Dion Lee from Australia doing a show and Neiman Marcus is doing a show. We want to keep on that track and make the event one of the major fashion weeks in the world.
Q: What types of unique shopping opportunities are available during Honolulu Fashion Week?
A: The opportunity to shop at 60 pop-up boutiques in one spot is pretty phenomenal. You can talk to the designers themselves because most of them are there at their pop-ups.
Q: In what ways does HFW provide opportunities for up and coming designers?
A: The event attracts a lot of media attention, and that is something that otherwise would be difficult for emerging designers to get. We had Vogue, W, Marie Claire, Refinery 29, Men’s Health and other publications at the event last year. Designers get to meet and watch and learn from top-caliber national designers, and work with some of the best fashion professionals out there. We fly in a creative team from New York City each year, and they are all Hawaii natives who live and work in New York now, but are all at the very top of the fashion world. They all come back and give back and it has made the quality of the event high, and they are giving all that knowledge and expertise back to the industry here so we can grow and advance.
Q: What are you looking forward to for this year’s Honolulu Fashion Week?
A: I love fashion and always have. I love that I have been able to become friends with some of these talented designers here in Hawaii. I try to wear local as much as possible. It makes me feel proud to be here among this talent, and proud to be part of the company that organizes the event.
Hailing from Berkeley, California, Jonathan Waxman studied classic French cuisine at the La Varenne School in Paris. After graduating, he returned to the U.S. where he started cooking in prestigious California kitchens before moving across to the country to the East Coast. Today, he lives in New York and oversees seven restaurants, including in New York City, Nashville, Atlanta and in San Francisco. He also co-founded Nashville’s Music City Food and Wine Festival. Chef Waxman is a featured chef at Hawaiian Airlines presents “Soaring Palates” on Maui on October 16.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Q: What, or who, inspires you as a chef?
A: The farmers market. Growing up on farm was my introduction to farmstead food. When I lived in Paris, I first discovered the world of communitarian farmers markets. The Nice markets also opened my eyes to the amazing bounty, but more importantly I love the beauty. This beauty makes it easy for me to create and improvise new dishes and stay current.
Q: How do you describe your style of cooking?
A: My style is Rustic Californian, which is centered on the barbeque or charcoal grill. Moving the grill indoors allows California chefs to make rustic dishes that feel like they were created outside in the garden.
Q: What do you think makes Hawaii a unique food destination? What sets the Islands apart from your native California, and from where you currently work?
A: I started my career in Hawaii at Kaanapali Beach. The fish, the produce, the tropical fruit, the amazing wild boar, and beef but most importantly the traditional Hawaiian cuisine set Hawaii apart. Hawaiian fish are more interesting. The tropical climate allows for a comprehensive vegetable and fruit selection, and new industries producing abalone, lamb and beef are changing the Hawaiian food landscape.
Q: You’ve attended the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival previously, and co-founded Nashville’s Music City Food and Wine Festival. You’re no stranger to food festivals. What are you most looking forward to during this year’s HFWF?
A: I have been going to the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival every year except the first. I’m looking forward to seeing the chefs and the festival goers, sourcing wonderful food and cooking.
Q: You’re a featured chef at Maui’s “Soaring Palates” HFWF event. What will you be preparing?
A: I’ll be preparing lamb chops sourced from a local Maui rancher, summer vegetable ragout and a basil sauce.
Q: The Hawaii Food and Wine Festival not only highlights the talents of regional and visiting chefs, but also provides educational opportunities. What’s your advice to the next generation of chefs?
A: My advice is to try and locate your passion. Find a great chef and try to get an apprenticeship. Work and have fun working, and be sure to keep your workspace clean. Take baby steps, giant leaps lead to spectacular falls.
Q: What’s your favorite memory of food?
One of my favorite meals was at a two star restaurant in Reims, France, the Champagne capitol in 1976. The restaurant, Boyer, was famous and impossible to get into, especially on a Sunday. My girlfriend and I stumbled in and they gave us their last table. We let the chef cook for us. The highlight was the black truffle salad, with shaved raw truffles, Mache lettuce, sea salt and olive oil.
Robert Lambeth has been the executive director of the Hawaii International Film Festival since 2011, and Anderson Le its co-director of programming since 2002. HIFF started in 1981 with a showing of seven films. Today it is considered the premier film festival in the Pacific, screening around 150 films and attracting an audience of more than 70,000.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Q: HIFF celebrates its 36th anniversary this November. What continues to make HIFF, and film festivals in general, vital to the community?
Lambeth: The marketplace has changed so much when it comes to consuming creative content. We live in a world where Netflix, Amazon and Hulu dominate the film viewing space. Arthouse cinemas and traditional theatrical distribution has dissipated over the years, as these streaming services have taken over this space.
Le: Film festivals are even more important in maintaining the traditional theater experience. If you ask any filmmaker on their preference of showing their film, it will always be in a traditional cinema, as the lights dim and audiences get settled into their seats to view their film. The late and great Roger Ebert has referred to this experience as “democratization in the dark” as cinema is the great equalizer when it comes to experiencing a unique point of view via cinema.
Q: How has the film festival grown and changed during the three plus decades of its existence?
Le: Digital technology over the last ten to 15 years has democratized the medium and opened opportunities for the audience to become filmmakers. Nowadays, a film can be shot on an iPhone and edited on your laptop. So, there is a new normal when it comes to independent and international cinema. There are even more filmmakers making films, but the traditional theatrical space is dead. However, there are more D.I.Y. methods to get your film distributed and seen, as well as funded through crowd funding platforms like Kickstarter. Crowdsourcing has become a key term in the evolution of indie cinema and film festivals are the curatorial collections that present to film-going audiences in a community with an annual presentation of what the film programmers deem as important and unique works to see.
Q: Each year, HIFF programmers view around 1,000 films, ultimately selecting about 150 features, documentaries and film shorts to showcase. How do you folks determine what makes the cut?
Lambeth: The selection process is difficult but we have a specific criteria and review system that allows us to go through initial review thresholds. It then becomes an intricate puzzle that involves negotiations for both submitted and solicited films that we have tracked over the last 18 months. Since HIFF is essentially an audience driven festival, we program specifically for regional and cultural tastes, but we’re also a festival of record on what we feel are important works from the Asian Pacific Rim.
Q: How do the film selections encapsulate Hawaii’s diverse culture?
Le: Although HIFF is an international film festival and we screen films from approximately 40 different countries annually, we have a strong focus on films from the Asia-Pacific Rim. We have stalwart and popular sections focusing on Japan, Korea, China, Hong Kong, India, Philippines and other parts of Asia. We also have a strong focus on works from Pacific Islanders, ranging from Hawaii to New Zealand, Australia and all parts of Oceania.
Q: What sets HIFF apart from other film festivals?
Le: We are the only film festival in North America with a strong focus on the Asia-Pacific Rim, so that makes our programming unique. We are also the only film festival in the world that has venues across an archipelago.
Q: In what ways has HIFF helped launched careers of local filmmakers?
Le: I can site a specific example. In 1992, we premiered the documentary, “Act of War: The Overthrow of the Hawaiian Nation” directed by Joan Lander and the late Puhipau. It struck a chord with our audiences and won accolades. The film was then invited to the Berlin Film Festival the following year, which is considered one of the premiere film festivals in the world, next to Cannes, Toronto and Venice. This is just one of many examples that we have provided a major forum for local filmmakers to showcase their work to local, national and international recognition.
Lambeth: Another recent success was the film “How to Win at Checkers (Everytime).” The screenwriter and director, Josh Kim, developed his screenplay while attending the Creative Lab Hawaii at HIFF Screenwriters Lab. Within two years, I had the honor of attending the world premiere at the prestigious Berlin International Film Festival.
Q: HIFF is about more than just watching films. What’s the impact of the festival’s seminars, workshops and receptions and why were they started?
Le: A film festival is a celebration of the cinematic arts. This also includes panels, workshops and seminars. We present an all-day Oscar Doc Lab, led by Oscar winner Freida Lee Mock, who examines past Oscar winning docs and breaks them down on how they were recognized and successful in their Oscar campaigns. We also have Creative Lab Hawaii at HIFF, to present master classes and workshops for local creatives to have face time with Hollywood industry professionals, in various fields beyond film including TV, new media, gaming and app development. The common thread is that these industries are tied together by the cinematic arts and film language.
Q: As the executive director, and co-director of programming at HIFF, what are each of you looking forward to this year during the film festival?
Le: I hope to see increased participation with younger audiences. Through our Roger Ebert Foundation Film Writers Workshop, we invite student critics to write articles, reviews and blogs about films at HIFF. It’s a great way for these students to not only get exclusive access to HIFF, but also interface with a professional film critic and journalist. This is my pet project and is a way for young people to learn film language, broaden their horizons to film culture and in turn, evolve the next generation of HIFF audiences.
Lambeth: Anderson and I have been working together on our Creative Lab at HIFF for five years and the opportunities it provides for our emerging filmmakers here in Hawaii continues to inspire me, so that’s always a highlight. Equally, I love the passion of our dedicated HIFF fans who fill the theaters throughout the day with great excitement for the experience that only a festival like HIFF can provide.