Floral artist Pamakane Pico’s eye-catching creations demand attention.
On a warm summer morning, Pamakane Pico glides through a garden. With one hand, she holds an overflowing bouquet of flowers in bright hues of yellow and red. With the other, she reaches into a tangle of stems nearly as tall as her, and plucks a magnolia at full bloom. When she does so, she utters a quiet prayer of thanks to the land.
It’s gathering day, and Pico has traveled from her Kailua home to Wai‘anae to browse one of her favorite garden enclaves. As she collects flowers, she keeps an eye out for ‘ilima, a golden blossom that grows in abundance on the sunny, dry leeward coast. The floral fruits of her labor will be wound into adornments at an upcoming lei-making workshop at the Four Seasons Resort O‘ahu at Ko Olina.
No matter the moment, Pico never stops perusing. She scans roadsides for any flora that catches her interest.
“I love to use anything I can’t usually get my hands on,” Pico says. “If I see something, I’ll stop to check it out and try to make a lei out of it.”
At the end of days spent gathering for lei orders, she hauls her loot home and begins hand-weaving for the next few days. It is a ritual that must be done twice a week if Pico wants to satisfy the demand for her creations.
Pico is a floral artist. She has been since the age of 5, when her mother, a lei-maker, taught her how to make a rose out of ti leaves. Soon, Pico began helping her mother create lei for her shop on Maui. Then, she started crafting them for friends, until what began as favors for fun blossomed into a full-time business. Her success is a surprise to no one except for Pico, who never realized how popular her lei could become. Now, they have graced the likes of Kourtney Kardashian and recording artist Kehlani, and garnered her 60,000 Instagram followers. “I was scared at first, because I didn’t really want anyone to see them,” Pico says. “But I began to embrace it. I felt alive. It lit this fire within me.”
Pico specializes in lei po‘o. They slip onto one’s head like a crown crafted from fresh flowers and leaves. Lei po‘o have grown in popularity in recent years, making their ways to weddings, music festivals, and even SnapChat filters. Despite this oversaturation, Pico’s creations stand out.
Even as a child, Pico had her own aesthetic. “When my mom gave me something to do, I always did it different,” she says. “I always tried to make it bigger than it was.” Her lei are a mixture of traditional and modern styles. She takes influences from her Tahitian roots, inspired by the grand lei worn by her relatives at family functions. Then, Pico, unabashed in her use of the brightest tropical blooms she can find, adds punctuations of color. “Some people don’t like to use a lot of colors, but I do,” Pico says. “It can be wild, and I’ll love it.”