Issue 15.3: June/July 2012

Prints of Polynesia

Story by Liza Simon

Photos by Jyoti Mau 


As a girl growing up in the quiet French Polynesian village of Tautira, Ida Teiti found it thrilling to watch women go about their daily lives—whether in the open-air markets or at festive gatherings known as tama‘a raa —in colorful and free-flowing garments. The fashionable Tahitian woman, Ida learned, doesn’t dress to impress but rather to express the bounteous island beauty surrounding her.  Noticeably absent were any fashion creeds that restricted aging or ample-bodied women from wearing fun, flamboyant styles, and Ida was especially enchanted by the ever-present pareo, ostensibly a swatch of colorful material but in savvy hands a creative canvas that could be twisted and tied to accent the feminine figure.


Ida moved to Hawai‘i at age 9 and brought north her zest for combining native culture and couture. Where other women wore shorts, she sheathed herself in a pareo. To anyone who questioned her choice, she would answer that the standard Polynesian garment was both feminine and functional. As she grew, she took to draping herself and her young daughter in skirts and tops she had reconfigured from pareo fabrics— always careful to keep the élan of the village women in her mind’s eye.


It might have stopped there were it not for numerous encounters with people who would stop and marvel at Ida’s original outfits — even when she was strolling up the trail to the Makapu‘u Lighthouse. Eventually she hooked up with a fabric designer (Mico of Tahiti) and a person to oversee manufacturing (Mae Young) and launched her own line. When Honolulu’s Ward Warehouse shopping center offered her a retail spot last October, she opened the Tiare Teiti boutique. She sees it as an opportunity not only to market Tahitian products (including oils, soaps and plenty of crafts), but to simply “share some joy”—the essence of the Tahitian style of dress. For any woman who equates trousers with power-dressing, Ida says she wishes she had a photo of what she saw on her last visit to Tahiti: a middle-age woman in a pareo pedaling a bike through the business district of Papeete, likely on the way to work. “She looked,” says Ida, “confident and free.”