Longtime Hawaii designer, pageant coach and fashion show producer Eric Kamakahia‘ai Eugene Chandler died June 27 at Hilo Medical Center. He was 67.
Chandler, from Puyallup, Wash., moved to Hawaii at age 17 to attend the University of Hawaii at Hilo. He later studied Japanese at Tokai University in Japan, then returned to Honolulu, where he became known as an artist and designer.
In Honolulu he founded 2Couture, a design and special events company with fellow designer and life partner Takeo Kobayashi. Chandler was a mentor and coach for many successful actors and models, including Miss America 1992 Carolyn Sapp, former Miss International Nadine Tanega Hogan, dancer Aureana Tseu and many others.
Chandler was known for his exuberant humor and larger-than-life, bon vivant personality.
“Eric was an icon of Hawaii’s fashion industry and one of the most generous souls on Earth. He is deeply appreciated and will be forever missed,” said Paula Rath, former fashion writer for The Honolulu Advertiser. “His kindness and generosity were unparalleled. He had a great eye for talent, and he was unwavering in his support of those he befriended as well as those he discovered.”
One of Chandler’s biggest “discoveries” was a young Jason Momoa (“Game of Thrones,” “Justice League,” “Aquaman”). He helped Momoa secure his first acting role on “Baywatch: Hawaii” in 1999.
Chandler designed gowns for many pageants and red-carpet events, including the Emmy Awards, and dressed many local celebrities and Hawaii first ladies. He produced countless fashion shows and fundraising events for diverse community organizations such as the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, Japanese Junior Chamber of Commerce and Hui Makaala Okinawan scholarship organization.
“He was very kind,” said Jason Kina, former owner of the Universal Show Queen Pageant. “He helped every pageant and loaned many of the girls dresses and jewelry. He just wanted each girl to shine.”
KITV news anchor Pamela Young said: “He gave unconditional love to anyone who sought his guidance and expertise. He wanted people to embrace joy and take risks in order to become their best selves.
“When I saw him at Hilo Medical, his first words were, ‘I’m departing.’ Then he said, in true Eric fashion, ‘Have you eaten yet? Let us buy you lunch.’ Even while waiting for the angels, he was concerned about others.”
Chandler was also sought by top Waikiki hotels, including the Moana Surfrider, Sheraton Waikiki and Hilton Hawaiian Village, to design Christmas exhibitions.
His design awards include the prestigious Governor’s Designer of the Year. He was also featured in the national TV drama “Miss America: Behind the Crown” and spent several years as co- executive director of the Miss Hawaii USA and Miss Hawaii Teen USA pageants.
In 2014 he moved back to Washington state, where he continued his involvement in community events.
Chandler retired to the islands in 2017, moving to Hilo.
He is survived by Kobayashi, and a brother and sister who live in Washington. A memorial service and celebration of his life will take place from 4 p.m. Aug. 10 at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Hawaii Kai, 219 Lunalilo Home Road.