Tomorrow night, the Liberty House HiBoard members, those teen stars of yesteryear, will meet in former Ala Moana Liberty House once again.
From 1970 to ’80, Hawaii department store Liberty House selected an elite team of high school students to model the latest fashions and make personal appearances on behalf of the store. HiBoard members were regarded with a kind of reverence. It was clear they weren’t chosen just for their looks. They were special.
"Six guys and six gals were selected from hundreds of public and private schools," said former HiBoard member Jicky Ferrer. "Juniors applied to be one of the lucky finalists for their senior year in high school. Thirty-six semifinalists went through a four-day ‘Personality Expansion Class.’ The final day was a talent show. Each semifinalist was graded on how they interacted with others and the talent show was their final test."
The creative genius behind this marketing campaign was Liberty House special events coordinator John Campbell. He set up the HiBoard to be a youth development program rather than simply a series of fashion shows. HiBoard members met with Amfac executives, did charitable events, even portrayed elves at the annual Breakfast with Santa event at the Ala Moana store.
"In 1976, during the country’s bicentennial, John was instrumental in having a Broadway-type production on the third floor," Ferrer said. Another event that he inspired was the annual celebration of a country. In the year that Italy was featured, Campbell had artisans from Italy create original handbags and custom-made shoes right in the store. HiBoard members were a part of these glamorous events.
HiBoard alumni include many Hawaii notables: Circuit Judges Mike Wilson and Steve Nakashima, Foodland CEO Jenai Sullivan Wall, state Sen. Donna Mercado Kim and Tony Award winner Angie Leilani Jones, to name a few.
Ferrer, a HiBoard member in 1975, remembers his sister encouraging him to try out.
"A boy from Waipahu really did not go shopping at Liberty House. We shopped at Arakawa store," he said. "I scoffed at the idea until she said that you work in a store and won’t have to work at the cannery or in the pineapple fields."
HiBoard members got to wear the latest fashions. "Luckily the sweater vests and plaid pants went out of style in 1974," Ferrer said. "I did have three sets of leisure suits, disco shirts and my share of platform shoes." But what he remembers most about that year on the HiBoard are the friends he made and the confidence he gained.
John Campbell died last year after a long illness. Tomorrow night, HiBoard alumni will gather at Ala Moana Macy’s Special Events room to honor their former mentor.
"He was always thinking outside the Liberty House gift box," Ferrer said.
Lee Cataluna can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.