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It's cut and died; artist finds niche in Steampunk genre

By Lee Cataluna

LAST UPDATED: 1:44 a.m. HST, Jun 26, 2011

The online customer feedback is over the top. Some describe opening the box and bursting into tears. Others swear the pieces are imbued with some sort of magic. One woman quoted Jane Austen.

From a garage workshop in Waipahu, the jewelry pieces have been shipped around the world. Most of the sales have come from Australia, followed by Canada, the Netherlands and the UK.

Since opening his online shop, Friston Hookano has been working from early morning to late at night to fill the orders. He has been a featured artist several times on, a popular site for handcrafted wares.

His fan base is so devoted, his customers send him pictures of themselves wearing his jewelry to special events and detailed descriptions of how the pieces made them feel.

This isn't the typical plumeria-inspired pendant or shell-covered hair comb. Hookano, an award-winning Hawaii florist who, among many assignments, has been tapped to make the floral displays for televised political debates, is way out there on the edge of creative design. He is fully steampunked.

He describes it as part Jules Verne, part ‘Iolani Palace, part Frank De Lima's "Scrooge." The clockwork and bejeweled pieces are inspired by Victorian-era design, but the Steampunk movement imagines how that steam-engine style would translate into modern day. Hookano often takes it a step further, imagining the Hawaii connection.

"The Hawaiian monarchy had a close relationship to the British monarchy — specifically Queen Victoria," Hookano said. "The craftsmanship of artisans in jewelry and architecture, along with high-society fashion of the era, really appealed to me. You can see that same work all over ‘Iolani Palace and monarchy portraits."

Sometimes his day starts at 4 a.m. He answers email and processes orders while the glue or paint dries on the piece he's crafting. He photographs each item in a specially designed set and adds the pictures to his online shop. Among his hundreds of handcrafted pieces, no two are alike.

"I cannot duplicate pieces because they are made from rare vintage jewelry findings," he said. He also just wouldn't want to make the same thing twice. That sort of artistic integrity is important to him.

He began by making Steampunk brooches for jackets, with a nod to the Big '80s fashions of his high school years. From there, he added rings and hat pins. For Father's Day, Hookano did a line of cogwork-covered liquor flasks that he says have been a popular seller. While most of the pieces feature clock gears and metal spirals, he's also done some wildly inventive adornments, like Steampunk egg men for Easter and variations on Kraken the octopus creature from "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea." A jeweled Kraken with pose-able tentacles sold for $42.

Hookano buys vintage clockwork pieces from around the world. Other times, he uses reproductions.

"Some manufacturers still hold original die cuts from the 19th century and still stamp metal pieces today for sale. Pieces that I purchase may be cut in today's time but the machine die comes from the 19th century. I also try to get pieces wherever I find — swap meet and garage sales."

Hookano is so obsessed (he's working on Steampunk Christmas now) that he's put aside his successful wedding floral design business to concentrate on his Etsy store. However, if someone came to him with an idea for a Steampunk wedding, he might just be talked into it.

Lee Cataluna can be reached at

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