by Pam Woolway
First impressions can be correct: The fragrant and wildly floral landscape; the butterfly pavers winding up the path; the archway at the entrance inscribed with the quote, “All you see here belongs to sacred oneness.” All of it alludes to the sensuous, gentle and colorful world of clothing designer, Chanterelle Chantara, daughter of Shosanah and Neal Chantara.
This willowy sprite of a 21 year-old has been developing her lush clothing line out of the family home in Kilauea for nearly 10 years – and in the last four, providing two Kaua`i retailers with her designs: Cake Nouveau, Kilauea and Island Hemp and Cotton, Kapa`a.
“The whole family pitched in to buy her first sewing machine when she was 7,” said mom and business partner, Shosanah.
Shosanah homeschooled her three children, two who’ve graduated, and all of whom are artists: Eldest son, Tor, is an award-winning marquetry wood worker and her youngest, Beorn, 17, is a musician, who was recently awarded the Kaua`i Berklee scholarship to the Berklee College of Music Summer program.
Shosanah attributes the success of her children to an approach to education she calls, “unschooling.”
“Instead of a curriculum, you trust that what the kids are passionate about will lead them,” she said. “As a parent it’s about trusting that and nurturing it.”
In Chanterelle’s case, her affair with textiles began at the age of 3 when she began choosing her mom’s outfits. By the time she was 6, the family had moved to Kaua`i, where Chanterelle began making fairy dolls. When at 8 she informed her teacher, Tammy Day, she’d like to make a 19th Century ball gown, no one discouraged it as too ambitious.
“She never made me feel I couldn’t do it,” recalled Chanterelle. “I never felt I couldn’t do anything.”
Chanterelle assisted in the creation of the three-tier hoop skirt and petticoats with corsets, crinoline and netting. The youngster went on to make many dresses inspired by her love of Laura Ingles Wilder, and wore them all.
“That’s the confidence of not being squashed,” added Shosanah.
Chanterelle’s line has blossomed into the realm of playful and sexy; many of her dresses seem made for twirling on the dance floor. They range from light summer dresses, tops and pants, to full-length gowns and wedding dresses. She refers to her technique as “stretch sewing” because most of her fabrics are in jersey using natural fibers such as bamboo, hemp, beech wood modal and eucalyptus, among others.
“It flows with the body and changes with every body type. It lies like a second skin on the body,” she said.
Once she discovered the attributes of knit fabrics there was no looking back.
“My dream is to make every woman feel beautiful,” she said. “What we see in magazines, there’s no naturalness about it – bodies are Photoshopped. Authentic beauty is what’s beautiful.”
It was at her first fashion show in 2009 at the Healing Gardens in Kilohana where Chanterelle realized the plight of women in regard to self-perceived beauty.
“Hardly any of the women modeling for me felt beautiful. It’s sad just how deep the wounds go.”
At a September fashion show, 43 designs were modeled and 53 outfits in all. “Many of the designs I did in different colors on different sizes and shapes of women, so people could see how adaptable they were,” she said. “I design for every body type. I listen to what women tell me they want to hide or accentuate. This is how my line grew, through listening.”
Chanterelle’s dream is two-fold. Second to restoring women’s confidence, is to keep all of her operation on Kaua`i. She’s had offers to outsource work but declined.
“I will always be here on Kaua`i, and my designs will be made by people here,” she said.
This vibrant young woman heartily attributes her success to the unity of her family.
“I can do this because the whole family makes it work. We all have a different skill set so we all work together,” she said.
Her father, Neal, is the carpenter who built her studio in the family home. Her big brother, Tor, designed her website (chezchanterelle.com); labels and business cards; and her mother is her right arm when it comes to research and resourcing.
“We keep trying to come up with a job title for mom but it gets too long,” she laughed. “Today her title is The Factotum.”
When observers comment on the workload involved in running a house, homeschooling, gardening and assisting with her daughter’s business, Shosanah lights up.
“People say, ‘so much work,’ but I think, ‘so much fun!’” she said.
Fun and work intertwine, just as organically as the botanicals bursting with color on this piece of land where nothing feels forced; as if it were a canvas made precisely for artful purpose.
Visitors exit the property the way they came in – crossing the foot bridge over the pond to follow the butterfly path. One can’t help but linger before passing beneath the arch – on the back of which is carved, “Be love.”
Visit chezchanterelle.com to see her latest designs.