Takeo Kobayashi, 72, was influential Hawaii fashion designer

Honolulu fashion designer and influencer Takeo Kobayashi died Friday in Honolulu, where he had resided since 1971, said longtime friend Yu Shing Ting.

Born March 20, 1948 in Yunohama, Japan and raised in Tokyo, he was 72 years old.

Kobayashi died of natural causes, Ting said.

A co-founder, with his life and business partner Eric Chandler, of 2Couture, a design and special events company, Kobayashi was a recipient of the Governor’s Designer of the Year award and created gowns for several Hawaii first ladies and beauty pageant winners, including Miss America Carolyn Sapp Daniels, Miss Hawai‘i USA Aureana Tseu, and Miss Hawaii Desiree Moana Cruz.

“For my competition at Miss America, Takeo designed a gorgeous, long-sleeved champagne colored lace evening gown covered with iridescent crystal bugle beads, each one hand-stitched on.” Cruz said in an email.”It was like heaven.”

She said she treasured not only “the entire couture experience of being attentively measured head to toe, the creation of a duplicate muslin and then being draped with wonderful fabrics,” but the lifelong friendship that resulted.

Other celebrities who have worn their designs include Jennifer Love Hewitt, Rosie Perez, Vivian Wu, Elizibeth Lindsey, Kelly Hu and Miss Universe Brooke Lee.

The couple, who served as pageant directors for Miss Hawaii USA and Miss Teen Hawaii USA, acquiring the franchise in 2000, routinely served as coaches for young talents such as Jason Momoa, “probably their most famous find,” said Honolulu photograper Marc Schechter, who worked with them for more than 30 years.

“Jason was going out with one of their contestants — he was about 19, they thought he had promise,” Schechter said. “They started working with him, cultivated his modeling career, and sent him to auditions for Baywatch Hawaii,” where Momoa launched his acting career.

“They were kind of like a finishing school,” Schechter added. “A lot of young people would come to them as raw talent and learn how to be ladies and gentlemen; in six weeks of the pageant process, they would become more poised, learning everything from how to walk to how to answer difficult questions.”

Another protegee, Pamela Kimura, said she first met the couple when she was 19 and modeled their evening gowns in fashion shows.

”Through their encouragement, I participated in their Miss Waikiki preliminary pageant and was fortunate to be named Miss Hawaii in 1992,” Kimura said.

A GRADUATE of Nippon Designers School in Tokyo, Kobayashi attended the ArtCenter in Los Angeles and came to Hawaii at age 23.

He worked as art director for Shirokiya and Mitsukoshi department stores and Duty Free Shops in Honolulu, and as a Japanese dialogue coach and actor for TV shows, including Baywatch Hawaii, My Wife and Kids, North Shore and ER.

He and Chandler, who died in 2019, also produced fashion shows for local non-profit organizations.

In 2006, Kobayashi and Sandy Pohl, wife of Chinatown gallery owner Louis Pohl, co-founded FACE of Nu‘uanu, which became Honolulu’s first Fashion Week, showcasing emerging local designers and drawing large crowds.

“This is the first time in Hawaii we will have so many designers together,” Kobayashi said in an October 12, 2006 Honolulu Star-Bulletin article. “I’m amazed this many people came, ages 10 to 87.”

In 2008, Kobayashi and Chandler received a Legacy Award from the Music Foundation of Hawai‘i for their stage design, including that for Hawai‘i Opera Theatre’s “Madame Butterfly.”

For their many friends, it was impossible to separate the two, Schechter said: “We always referred to them in the plural, as Takeo and Eric; they were always working together.”

But Kobayashi’s individual dream, having studied calligraphy as a child, was to paint, said Sandy Pohl, who curated several shows for him.

“Takeo was a wonderful watercolor painter of ethereal works on rice paper,” Pohl said. “In the 18 years that we worked together he always said his primary ambition and goal was to be an artist,” she added, noting that his work sold well.

“Takeo was ever elegant, soft spoken and kind,” Cruz said. “He always saw the best in others and made sure to give an encouraging word or compliment to be savored later.”

“He made everything fun and delightful,” Pohl said.

Kobayashi is survived by his brother Masao Kobayashi and sister Kimiko Kobayashi in Japan.

Those who knew him are invited to reminisce at facebook.com/groups/erictakeo.

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