The premiere of the movie Moana in Hollywood was not just about showcasing Polynesian traditions, culture, songs and dancing.
For some Pacific island fashion designers it was the breakthrough they had been dreaming about to show the world – especially Hollywood - how far they have come and just how creative they can be.
One of those proud designers is a woman who needs little introduction in Samoa. She is Cecilia Peterson Keil, of Cecilia’s Fashion House at Vaigaga.
One of her pieces, a jacket, was worn by Opetaia Foai of Te Vaka during the premiere. It was certainly an attention grabber, a piece that got fashion designers talking.
Speaking to the Samoa Observer, Mrs. Keil said the international focus for her company started last year.
“I was invited to the Pacific runway in Sydney and from there I saw the opportunity in terms of this platform to get out of Samoa,” she said.
“I know that there are a lot of very creative and very good designers in Samoa, so why not get further? Why do we have to stay here?
“When I got back I spoke to some friends that are into arts and from there we coordinated this Samoan fashion week which took place in September…”
The rest as they say is history.
Back to Moana and Te Vaka, Cecilia said she was delighted with the opportunity offered to her as part of the Pacific Runway Fashion Show.
“When I left Australia I was told on the day at the airport that I have been selected as one of the designers to dress Te Vaka,” she said. “And when I came back, you know, I got this positive feedback, our Samoan fashion is going global. It was such an exciting time.”
Cecilia’s husband, Konrad Keil, said all this happened because of the exposure they received in Australia. He said from their time there, they have made some key connections of companies they are looking to work with.
And it’s not just in Australia.
“There is another chain in Papua New Guinea that was interested in her,” he said. “This is what she meant by taking it outside, having a platform to use all these talented designers. But I think the biggest achievement that happened to Cecilia is the event of dressing Te Vaka.”
Konrad said his wife’s work is unique and Moana was the perfect platform for it.
“Cecilia's fashion is as different as the movie,” he said. “They even made the red carpet blue because it's the ocean of the Pacific. Cecilia is really pushing the traditional wear. It's not commercialised by the Asian market. It should never lose its significance.”
For Mrs. Keil, she said her pieces are individual. You will never find clothes like hers.
“Each of these symbols have a meaning,” she said about the artwork on the jacket worn by Foai. “Each pattern tells a story about life in Samoa back in the days, stories of families and friends. Each piece I design shows my Polynesian identity and gives me a great sense of pride.“
Mrs. Keil said it took a couple of days to create the jacket.
“The print is what makes it special, so it stands out. It is different,” she said. “We look at the Western trend and utilise some parts but I always add the Polynesian flavour to it. It's about having the traditional Polynesian parts and mixing them up with some casual Western parts. It's always about identity.”
And what does she make of Samoan fashion going mainstream in Hollywood?
“According to all the congratulations, it is a really big deal for Polynesian people. Opetaia’s wife sent me a message wishing me all the best and success. Western society may need some time to get used to this way of dressing.“
So what does this mean for her business in Samoa?
“Ninety five per cent of my work is sold to Australia New Zealand, America and Europe. The price is one of the reasons why I can't sell that fast.” That might change now with the recent exposure of her work.