Overheard in Honolulu: A University of Hawai‘i Instructor and Student Talk About the Excitement and Exhaustion of Planning UH’s First Virtual Fashion Show

The show must go on. And, thanks to this New York fashion show veteran Lynne O’Neill and her lead student producer Melanie Simmons, and a humble-yet-hardworking team of students and teachers, it will. Stylishly, we might add.


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Photo: Courtesy of Jade Young; model, Amaya Villahermosa



While there are some loose ends, and loose threads, to be taken care of before UH’s 55th fashion show on Monday, May 10, Lynne O’Neill and Melanie Simmons steal a moment on Zoom to open up professionally—and personally—about the work it took to stage the show for television instead of a live audience. And although the two have talked shop almost every day since February,  they discovered during our conversation that they are related by marriage through cousins! Only in Hawai‘i. After some feel-good laughter, the two chatted about how email is unfashionable, their rocky road to the runway and what audiences can expect to see (and love) at this year’s show.


SEE ALSO: Lynne OʻNeill profile from October 2014


Lynne O’Neill: I came in like a hurricane. This was my first time teaching, and I didn’t know what to expect, especially teaching virtually from New York. I’ve always done live runways. But I taught what I knew from my experiences and treated the students as professionals. There wasn’t much time, so every class was a production meeting, which was part of the lesson.



Photo: Courtesy of Amanda Stevens; The Fashion Design and Merchandising 430 students with Lynne O’Neill (middle row, center) and Amanda Stevens (bottom row, center)



Melanie Simmons: When I heard you would be one of our professors, I was so nervous. But, as I got to know you, I found that you have a business side and a fun, caring side. That took my fears away. I learned so much from you, including how to manage stress, how to be organized and how to communicate professionally—I remember my email intervention.


LO: I was shocked! You know, students don’t use email. They text. So, when it came time to send emails, professionally, I had to teach some of you. For me, I had to learn how to Zoom and work on Google Drive. I live on it now.


MS: Sometimes I would be up at 10:30 at night, editing videos and you would be up answering my questions. I was so relieved I could ask you questions.


LO: I was half sleeping. (laughs) There are no dumb questions. If you don’t know, ask. That’s a big part of learning. The class was in charge of a lot, so we [Co-instructor, Amanda Stevens, and myself] had to be on top of things by overseeing everyone’s effort in creating content, coordinating and communicating with the designers, directing and editing the videos, cataloging, writing a script, working with the behind-the-scenes photographer and recording the runway with your smartphones. Although our class only met three times week, you, Amanda and I had to be in touch almost every day.


MS: It was overwhelming. When we chose our roles [for producing the fashion show], we didn’t even know what that meant. This was the first virtual show, so we had to plan a lot. Setting agendas for the designers, meeting with outside production crews [‘Ōlelo Hawai’i], going through a creative process from beginning to end with a fine-tooth comb were all big challenge. There were some nights I was freaking out and didn’t think that I was going to complete everything.


LO: Amanda and I felt like you were a good fit to lead because you showed great enthusiasm, and you really stepped up. Being challenged is a good thing. It helps you grow. Hopefully, the things you learned you’ll apply later in life.


MS: Definitely. I’m so grateful for you and Amanda. One of the biggest lessons I learned was, ironically, from people who are from Hawai‘i, but don’t live here now. When you brought [stylists] Don Sumada, [model agent] Roman Young and [model] Keke Lindgard to speak to our class, they reminded us that no matter how stressed we get, try to be a nice, kind person. Show aloha spirit. They brought that phrase back to my vocabulary. And it helped when I was experiencing burnout syndrome.


SEE ALSO: Catching Up With Hawai‘i’s Own Victoria’s Secret Runway Model, Keke Lindgard


LO: Along with the crazy schedule, we were also dealing with COVID. Remember, one student was exposed to COVID and had to cancel her shoot. Another model was stuck in L.A. because of COVID restrictions. Gathering for assignments was limited and when the students started receiving their vaccination shots, they didn’t know how they would feel after. But, part of the lessons was to figure things out. I didn’t know sh*t about one of my first Macy’s fashion projects, but I had to figure it out. And I learned from it. You did learn and I saw your confidence grow.


MS: (Laughs) That’s funny, because the day of the video shoot with my designer, [each of the seven video segments had a student producer], I was so nervous that my mom had to drive me to the location. If I drove, I probably would’ve thrown up.


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Photo: Courtesy of Peter Ulatan; camera person, Melanie Simmons



LO: When I finally saw all the videos, in the middle of the night in New York, I got teary-eyed. The behind-the-scenes documentary showed the production students executing, they weren’t just talking about it anymore. All the students were focused, using all the tips that were given and owning their roles. I was happy and proud.


MS: Thank you. (sighs) I can’t wait for people to see the show. The three senior designers created such amazing collections. I really like a dress by Jade Young. It’s form fitting, asymmetrical and kind of has an aquatic feel. There’s intricate beading and a cutout neckline. You would think it’s a lot, but it’s not. It’s so cool.


LO: That one is great. Is it my turn? (Laughs) I know I talk a lot. When I saw all the collections, I felt each look matched the designer who created it. That was a real wow moment. They owned who they are as designers. I have to say, I was truly impressed with the swimwear collection. The three segments included were very creative and really outstanding. Plus, they used models with varying body types. I was proud. And, the models were confident, that was inspiring.


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Photo: Courtesy of Amanda Stevens; models (left to right) Helen Park, Tehoni Nae’ole, Crystal Lam, Sarah Domingo and Lei Aloha Batungbacal.



You got excited about something else as well, you want to share that?


MS: Yes! The cameos. Designers that I have loved from Project Runway and Reach the Runway will be appearing in the show. It’s such a full-circle moment for me to be producing a show and having these people I’ve idolized be a part of it. I appreciate them supporting us and our school.


LO: And, since it’s virtual, we don’t know who will be watching this. All the fashions, along with the locations selected, from Kaka‘ako to a hiking trail in Kaimukī and Ho‘omaluhia, Kāne’ohe’s botanical garden, will help shine a spotlight on Hawai‘i and the fashion program. That was the goal all along.


MS: It was so much fun working with you. Even though it was crazy and chaotic, I learned so much. I’m so appreciative.


LO: I’m really proud of the work you and everyone did. The show is fabulous. And you’re part of the fashion ʻohana now. I expect to always connect with you. But, not for a while, I need a Zoom break. (laughs)


ROAD TO RUNWAY: The Fashion Show premieres Monday, May 10, at 6 p.m. on ‘Ōlelo 53, livestreamed on olelo.org/53 and 8:30 p.m. on KFVE 6 and livestreamed on hawaiinewsnow.com/roadtorunway. Full schedule on manoanow.org/runway