In what seems like a lifetime ago, a baby-faced version of yours truly sauntered down a Chicago nightclub's "runway" rocking fashions curated by then-Project-Runway-winner Jeffrey Sebelia. While the venue, guest list and, well, everything about the picture I'm including here (left) was questionable, the clothes I wore (and took home — score!) were most certainly not. In particular, I remember loving a lady by the name of Roberta Oaks, and umpteen years later, this blue colorblocked sundress remains one of my summer staples.
Flash forward to last week, when a rad work trip took me to the breathtaking shores of Honolulu and quainter Haleiwa for 11 days. In between interviews. I roamed around chatting with locals and snapping tropical street style left and right. The one name that seemed to pop up in all my convos? My blast-from-the-past fashion crush, Roberta Oaks.
Ms. Oaks calls Honolulu home, specifically the on-the-rise section of Chinatown's Arts District. Her boutique ushers in both style-savvy visitors and trend-setting locals, while also boasting a thriving eComm following. I caught up with the local designer/celebrity for an indulgent walk down memory lane.
Julie Bensman: Did you always know that designing clothes was what you wanted to do for a living?
Roberta Oaks: It was completely unplanned. I moved to Hawaii ten years ago and landed a job helping an elderly lady. I had some downtime, so I got a sewing machine and started playing around with reconstructing vintage slips. At the same time, I was working on some multimedia pieces and had one in a gallery show. On opening night, and at the very last minute, I hung a rack of clothes I'd been working on and to my surprise, people were all over it. I always knew I needed to do something creative and was always attracted to fashion as a means of self-expression, but I had absolutely no idea that I would end up doing this.
JB: Who is the Roberta Oaks girl?
RO: She rides her bike to the beach, barefoot and in a shift dress, with a can of PBR and her journal tossed in the basket — and The Avett Brothers playing in her headphones.
JB: Ugh, I want to be her! How does Hawaii influence your designs?
RO: It's all about lifestyle. Everything I design is both beachy and mod. I love the architecture here; I see the 1960s and 70s everywhere I look. I'm very connected to that era for some reason. I drive a 69 Valiant and live in a mid-century, simple Hawaiian style house. My lifestyle greatly inspires me and I can only really imagine having it here in the tropics.
JB: Besides yourself, who are some of your own favorite local designers?
RO: Jeffrey Yoshida is doing some really cool stuff. It's very Alfred Shaheen-inspired — think 1950s shapes cut from Aloha fabrics.
JB: What's next for the Roberta Oaks brand?
RO: More menswear!
JB: What was the last thing you googled?
RO: AMOK, Thom Yorke's latest album/project. I just ordered it on vinyl.