Tucked away on the busy street of Toorak is a charming little design studio called Taylor’s Tailors owned by business woman and designer Elaine Taylor and it’s here that ZUBER designer Ilai Jikoiono is sitting at a sewing machine with tuffs of tulle surrounding him, above his head on the wall is a list of models and clients, their names, measurements and what not. We’re four days away from FJFW17 and Ilai is set to show his second collection after debuting at FJFW two years ago.
“A lot’s happened, mainly school, I took up fashion design at APTC so I took a year off to hone those skills” said Ilai.
On a rack tucked against the wall hangs his latest collection 'Zetus-Lapeduz'. The suede and fringe elements denote a 70's feel, I do a double take when I hear the name and think ‘what?’
I’m right, Ilai laughs and tells me that 'Zetus-Lapeduz' means ‘No way, you’re joking’ a colloquialism from the 70’s.
The collection has a subtle, modern edge in the dark tones. He’s chosen pleather; wool, cotton and a shower curtain (I kid you not) to create his collection and the silhouettes are distinctly 70’s.
His inspiration came from an old family album of his parents in the 70’s, I am always thrilled to see vintage Fijian photos. It’s like you can feel the richness and essence of that time period, Ilai’s parents pics don’t disappoint.
Ilai talks about his Dad dressed in bell bottom jeans and a fitted men’s top.
“My mum was stunning, showing cleavage that was hot, the style was so chic and I remember looking at the pics around the time Trump was elected and I was thinking what were issues they were going through as young Fijians"
Thus began his research locally and globally of the 70’s. America was at the cusp of technology and environmental awareness, women’s rights and gay rights and he asked how have we progressed.
"Technologically we’ve progressed leaps and bounds; socially we’ve regressed and stalled. We expect innovation and high standards when it comes to technology but its still a hard thing to accept a gay couple holding hands or the fact that women can hold high powered jobs be paid the same as men and still be moms” said Jikoiono.
He also tells me that he has some of the models are going topless in some pieces.
“It’s a question in my garments, have women truly been liberated, at the same time you see the strings and straps in some pieces a statement to society still holding us back socially”
And as a blogger who has watched him grow from his first collection, this is what we're pushing at the Fashion Council of Fiji, education and Ilai's investment in education means that his technical knowledge gives him a distinctive edge with his patterns which convey a dark commentary about our past and where we're at in this space and time.
When I talk about a technical edge I mean it's the natural evolution I hope our designers take, we thrive and live on our textile prints, it's an intrinsic part of our fashion but we must start up skilling our designers if we're going to get better products for our market.
I'd also like to point out at this juncture that I loooooove all the shoes in his collection (if only I had petite fairy tiny feet and not the Fijian hooves, sigh)
Watch out for Ilai, he's a force to be reckoned with. My two cents worth anyway.
ZUBER stocks at House of Design, Suva.