He leans toward basic, architectural lines. She's flamboyant and likes things that are dramatic. He favors quiet, beautiful clothes; elegant simplicity. She creates dynamic, strong styles clearly meant to stop traffic.
Kakzuyoshi Hino and Malee Chompoo - better known in designing circles as Hino and Malee - could be called the yin and yang of fashion because they're so often at polar opposites. Yet, somehow the differences manage to meld and the unlikely combination works. Hino, who comes from Japan, and Malee, who comes from Bangkok, Thailand, have learned how to work together - an interesting and distinctive design team. And the designs they turn out are interesting and distinctive as well."We have a perfect partnership," says Hino. "No arguments! Over the years we've found it pays to listen to each other, to compromise. Together, I think, we're better than alone. There's the best of her, there's the best of me in the clothes we do. The qualities in each of us that aren't as desirable usually have been eliminated by the time a design reaches the production stages and becomes part of a collection."
The collection for fall and winter focuses on unusual silhouettes. It was inspired by the rubrum lily about to open, explains Hino. The egg shape also is featured. Indeed, there isn't a silhouette in the entire line that could be called ordinary - the ordinary sheath, the ordinary full skirt, the ordinary blazer just aren't a part of the design team's concept. These are arty clothes that seem almost like intricate origami. These are clothes that have ageless oriental overtones and an extremely modern feeling - at the same time.
Evident throughout the collection is meticulous attention to detail. Pin-tucks, asymmetrical closings, curved-back collars and perfectly carved seams give the clothes a special look. Fabrics also play an important role in making the collection stand out. They include leather-like jacquard, moire silk, fur-like rayon pile, mohair, Italian gabardine, wool jersey and velvet jersey.
There are patterns - most notably dots, both large and small. Colors range from many shades of green to all hues of red. Black, charcoal and midnight blue act as the base of the collection accented with white and pearl.
"We still love black and dark tones just as we did at the beginning," says Malee. "But Hino and I are doing more with color now . . . we're trying new and exciting things. We feel it is important not to become too predictable. If the customer always knows what to expect, the customer becomes bored!"
No one could accuse Hino and Malee of making boring clothes. Some might say the outfits are too extreme, too stark, too bold, too expensive (an oilcloth raincoat from the current line retails at about $480; a simple wrap dress might sell at around $368). Or people might complain that the styles have a limited appeal - too limited. But boring? No way! And they aren't directed toward any one age group, either.
"We design for the sophisticated lady," says Hino. "She can be old or young, it doesn't matter. The right attitude is necessary, though, and so is self-confidence."
Hino and Malee began to develop their refreshing approach to fashion in Chicago - and the Windy City still is where their factory is located and where they live.
Malee had grown up in Bangkok, making her own clothes and knowing that she loved fashion. Opportunity to become a designer in her country, however, was almost nonexistent. So, in college she studied fine arts. Eventually her sister came to the United States and settled in Chicago. Malee decided to come with her.
She attended fashion school and landed a position with an apparel concern in the city.
Hino, who had worked as a fashion designer in Japan, also had come to the United States seeking career opportunities. He was hired by the same firm where Malee was working. And although the two were in separate divisions of the company, it didn't take them long to discover each other and become friends.
"It began right there," says Hino with a smile. "I grew tired of doing uniforms; Malee grew tired of never being able to express her own ideas in the work she was doing. She moved out on her own. . . . It was very rough at first. Soon I joined her. I thought perhaps I could help."
The two started a business together on a shoestring budget, and their first outlet was a beauty salon that displayed a few pieces of fashion merchandise.
In August 1980 they introduced their first wholesale collection and immediately had many orders.
The orders have been increasing ever since, and today the company can boast about its 350 accounts and retail outlets in the United States, Canada and London.
Hino and Malee, understandably proud of the progress they've made with their business, intend to keep expanding (already there are two distinct collections: Hino and Malee, which focuses on sophisticated city dressing for all hours, and Hino and Malee II, for more casual times in a woman's life).
"We love this business," says Malee enthusiastically. "We also love to travel, and that's good because the work frequently takes us from Chicago to New York and other fashion centers."
Do they think their design partnership will endure as the pressures of the business increase?
Both Hino and Malee nod vigorously when you ask them this question. And then they confide a little secret. They recently decided to be partners in private life as well as in their profession.
"We get along so well we decided to get married," says Hino with smile.