October 7, 2011 10:06 pm

Boutiques, Uzis and Aloha spirit

The main shopping strip in Honolulu is as hypnagogic as shooting firearms in booty shorts

Over the years I have happily shared my views on many different subjects with many different audiences, but when asked recently to give a speech about my somewhat rusty views on innovation, I was tempted to decline – until I heard the location: Honolulu. How could I refuse?

Granted, preparing a killer talk (and finding the perfect outfit) took a few weeks, but finally, after far too many hours in the sky, the comfort of evening city lights suddenly appeared and within minutes of landing, I deplaned. Though it was well past sunset, I was soaking wet from the humidity and appreciated the gift of a wonderfully fragrant lei.

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With 24 hours until my keynote, I planned to distract myself from any incipient stage fright by investigating the local retail scene, so the next day I found myself on Kalakaua Avenue, Kona coconut coffee in hand (when in Rome…) The first thing I saw wasn’t really about shopping as I define it, but seemed surreal enough to warrant closer inspection: The Hawaii Gun Club. I can’t independently verify their claim about being “Hawaii’s #1 shooting experience”, but they managed to talk me out of $140 to let off a few shots from an M16 and an Uzi. The Five-O experience strangely fired me up for serious sartorial adventure.

The main shopping strip in Honolulu is almost as hypnagogic as shooting a firearm in camo booty shorts (yes, I know of what I write). Women in Crocs, or no shoes at all, appear as frequently as ladies teetering along in YSL Tributes. The fierce sunshine made it hard for me to justify the midi-length fur coat in the window at Fendi, but I did find a more appropriate cover-up in the form of a $30 shredded grey cotton oversized scarf with black abstract print across the street at Diesel.

The DFS Galleria is an air-conditioned collection of recognisable international brands offered at duty-free pricing. Burberry was a sea of khaki and very tame, no Prorsum in sight – as was Ralph Lauren, which featured mostly polo shirts and white denim. Predictably, Pucci displayed an ocean palette of swirly patterned beachwear.

At the back of the building was Marc Jacobs, where I found two pairs of versatile and extraordinarily comfortable pants – one in casual acetate jersey with a thick elastic waistband ($195), another in washed silk, with wide legs and shiny gold buttons ($225). Clearly, however, the global names do not consider locals or tourists to be fashion-forward shoppers.

Thus, though there were hundreds of other stores on the main drag, ranging from affordable impulse retailers (Marciano, bebe) to pricier alternatives (Prada, Chanel), I ventured off the beaten track in search of unique finds.

Spark is located on relatively quiet Royal Hawaiian Avenue, close to the DFS Galleria. Full of original, quasi-vintage clothing, knick knacks and kitschy jewelry, Spark was fun, though I couldn’t find one thing that fitted me – tees too short, shirts not sized consistently, shoes in small sizes only.

Almost next door, however, sits a Japan-meets-Malibu boutique called Marqet where I found a $63 charcoal long-sleeved beat-up tee printed with a grey dream catcher silkscreened around the neckline and adorned with a pink peace sign. Everything else in the store had fringe or frayed edges, even the trucker hats.

Koi Boutique, tucked away inside the Royal Hawaiian Center, is one of my new favourites. I loved the hands-free practicality of a $165 black chainmail clutch with a golden handcuff-for-a-strap by Cuffz. Cleobella’s black Navaho style luggage tag for $51 makes for classy suitcase bling. And, among the many bedazzled clothing options, I went for E.Vil’s black $125 burnout tee with “Peace Love and Minibars” emblazoned in bold fuchsia sparkle across the front. Apropos of my earlier experience with firearms, I scooped up a Chan Luu gunmetal nugget wrap bracelet for $245 – to wear as a belt. Finally, there were some interesting natural bone and leather unisex armbands by M Cohen, but they were a little too big for my wrist, so I settled on a lava stone bead bracelet with a single tiny gold vermeil skull for $153.

That evening, fully shopped out, I caught a flight to the smaller island where I was due to speak the next morning. Bulletproof slides at the ready, I walked to the dais – to find a sunburned audience in shorts, Aloha shirts, and flip-flops smiling up at me.

The Mystery Shopper is a globe-trotting executive who shops as she travels for work

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