Jen Kao Spring 2012: Dangerously Beautiful Flora (and She Tells Us Why Leo DiCaprio Inspired the Collection)

In a departure from last year’s outer galaxy runway show, Jen Kao was firmly on planet earth--more specifically, Hawaii--for her spring 2012 collection. It was nice to see the esoteric designer lightening up a little bit, too. Well, sort of. While the visual references to her show were obvious allusions to the sunny flora and fauna of the islands, there was a deeply tragic lost love undercurrent to the collection, too. Set to a backdrop of a hazy sherbet-hued beachfront sunrise, a paper art fascinator-wearing model opened with a sun-ray orb projected onto her chest, which then grew to full-blown daylight in the room. Cue the gasps from the audience.
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In a departure from last year’s outer galaxy runway show, Jen Kao was firmly on planet earth--more specifically, Hawaii--for her spring 2012 collection. It was nice to see the esoteric designer lightening up a little bit, too. Well, sort of. While the visual references to her show were obvious allusions to the sunny flora and fauna of the islands, there was a deeply tragic lost love undercurrent to the collection, too. Set to a backdrop of a hazy sherbet-hued beachfront sunrise, a paper art fascinator-wearing model opened with a sun-ray orb projected onto her chest, which then grew to full-blown daylight in the room. Cue the gasps from the audience.
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In a departure from last year’s outer galaxy runway show, Jen Kao was firmly on planet earth--more specifically, Hawaii--for her spring 2012 collection. It was nice to see the esoteric designer lightening up a little bit, too. Well, sort of.

While the visual references to her show were obvious allusions to the sunny flora and fauna of the islands, there was a deeply tragic lost love undercurrent to the collection, too. Set to a backdrop of a hazy sherbet-hued beachfront sunrise, a paper art fascinator-wearing model opened with a sun-ray orb projected onto her chest, which then grew to full-blown daylight in the room. Cue the gasps from the audience. The color palette of the collection was based on sunrise pastels: lush pinks, soft blues, cheerful yellows, and calming creams. The details were abundant: ornate embroidered lei flowers, Hawaiian shirt-patterned flouncy skirts and flowing dresses, sky-like ombre prints, fine checkerboard knits and Japanese-Hawaiian references, like obi belts and kimono silhouettes. There were editorial-friendly piled-on looks with lots of lacy, fringe-y, flowery layers, but there were definitely pieces that could find their way into our closets. The models all wore side knots with untucked ends and Jen Kao-designed mismatched poison flower inspired earrings, with ethnic print drawstring rucksacks. The shoes were a casual streetwear mix of cork soled wedges, high-tops and beachy sandals. Oh, did we mention the arty cut paper and origami-reminiscent fascinators, cuffs, belts and capes peppered throughout the show?

After the show, we spoke to the designer backstage. Here's what she had to say about her show notes, Asian models, and Leonardo DiCaprio as inspiration: Fashionista: Each season, we really look forward to your extensive show notes. Do you write them yourself? Yes, I write them all myself. They’re actually really important to me. I know some people might think it’s a long drawn out story, but I like every collection to be personal and emotional and it comes really from me. The notes are really beautiful, but could you maybe give us a CliffsNote version and talk about your personal inspiration for the collection? There are so many inspirations in this collection, but it really started out when I was having a conversation with a friend about lucid dreams. It’s something that I used to experience every day when I was younger. The last line of your show notes reads, “And finally, credit to Leonardo DiCaprio as Romeo Montague, and to Tank Girl” (there are tops in the collection named "Chasing Leo"). You have to tell us what that means. (Laughs) Those also came six months ago, too. I don’t know…I had this vision of Leo in his Hawaiian shirt and the beater and I love that idea of something so kitschy and someone being able to make it look really cool and chic. And Tank Girl is the same thing, so those were the two styling inspirations for me. What was your thought process in the model casting ? I wanted to pick girls that weren’t obvious. So I tried to cast girls that are grown. They’re women that know their body and they’ve been through life a little bit. Speaking of models, we’re seeing more Asian faces in the ads and on the runway lately. As an Asian American designer, do you think this is more of a trend or an actual watershed moment for Asians in fashion? I think yes and no. I do believe the model "trend"...some people are over-blowing it and thinking "cast an entire show this way" and whatnot, but I think maybe designer-wise, Asians are just coming into their time. Today is a very momentous and emotional day for the country. What is your feeling on the importance of showing today? Every time I tell someone that my show is on September 11, they always have this “oh….” sort of reaction to it, but I think it’s a great thing to have a positive moment on a memorial like this. I was excited actually.

**All photos via Imaxtree