December 30th, 2015
Kit and Ace launched the first of its planned Speaker Series Dec. 17, featuring designer Ari South.
The event took place in the Ala Moana Center boutique, on the Macy's end of the mall.
The intimate event brought together a guest list of people who touched South's life in some way, ranging from school teachers, to fellow designers to the journalists such as moi who have covered her journey, ranging from the professional to the very personal. What for some would have been a private transformation became very public due to her high-profile design life.
She spoke with a sense of gratitude and humility as she gave her interpretation of "personal style," which she said goes beyond fashion to define who you are and what you stand for.
If we haven't seen her name mentioned much over the past year, she said it was because she needed time to focus on herself, away from the spotlight, reiterating the whirlwind that started with her casting on "Project Runway" as Andy South.
"It was the most challenging thing I've done in life. It was the hardest and most beautiful thing I've ever done and it pushed me to grow in ways I never could do in Hawaii. It took me from a pond and pushed me into an ocean."
At that time, Andy had been working for someone else and might have been content to do that for a while, but with "Project Runway," "It was the first time I experienced stars lining up, and it was too perfect to deny. When things are too perfect that means they're just right."
She spoke of having grown up taught to think analytically, and having to let go of that to have the life she wanted.
"I learned to surrender to gut instinct and intuition.
"We should never be afraid of letting go of what were taught, but people are so afraid to consider other opinions as possibly being right.
"It's not a matter of giving up your beliefs, but we really don't know what we believe in until we can let go of old belief systems."
The talk comes at a time when Ari, who made the transition from male to female, is addressing duality with the rebranding of her Andy South line as a men's line, and the startup of her Ari South line for women.
I have written about South many times over the years, but for the first time heard the story about the little boy who was born to be a maker of things and felt most at home with a box of craft items.
"I loved classed projects. I watched HGTV. I learned to knit and crochet. I was always the quiet kid who did my own thing."
Even so, the "little kid from Waianae" knew nothing of the fashion world. "I didn't know it existed. I only knew you went to the store to buy clothes."
At some point, he knew he was a girl, internally. "It was something that never caused depression, but I grew up with the understanding it wasn't a good thing. I didn't grow up with anyone transgender.
I didn't know anyone transgender. I didn't know the difference between transvestites. I didn't think anyone transgender was successful.
"It never brought me down. It was not something that caused me to feel sadness, but it was the missing piece. To have all this and not be in the right body, I don't want it at all."
All this was on Andy's mind as he progressed through his season on "Project Runway," and those who watched saw his muse as a warrior woman, a strong and open-minded citizen of the world.
"As I was designing, I realized I wasn't imagining someone else. I was imagining myself," she said. "Andy, defending himself with a mohawk, was a representation of everything we're afraid of."
Later, finding her style as a woman came with "extremely heavy" makeup. "I learned to paint from a drag queen. I didn't want to look masculine at all."
That eased up as she became more comfortable in her body.
"When I think about the idea of personal style, I look at my life starting as a chubby kid. I feel like I've lived multiple lifestyles. Personal style never changes, it just evolves. I've evolved and developed into who I was the whole while.
"So, when you're talking about personal style, it's not about, 'I like to wear this,' but who you are right now."
Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her coverage is in print on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Contact her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.