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Monday, July 12, 2010

Alfred Shaheen - Fabric to Fashion Show Review

If you are anywhere near the bay area, San Jose specifically, you need to take time,or make a road trip to see the most fabulous show at the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles, Shaheen Fabric to Fashion. The show runs through August 8th, 2010.

I recently had the opportunity to view this show and it's like walking into a vintage time machine. Albert Shaheen was a pure genius. The museum has brought together an amazing collection of Shaheen fabrics, dresses, swimsuits, men's shirts and a selection of buttons, labels and drawings all artfully displayed with history and dating. Camille Shaheen-Tunberg has amassed a wonderful display of her fathers work and I'm so very grateful that she is sharing it with us.

Kapa Poni Poni - Early 1950s Cotton Yardage - This fabric was designed after studying Hawaiian Kappa at the Bishop Museum.

Pom Pom - Mid 1950s Cotton Yardage

I was completely enthralled when I walked in and did an inner jump for joy. Seeing this much Shaheen in one space just made me feel like a kid in a candy shop. The swim wear was completely amazing. The quantity and quality of the dresses, from wiggle to sarong to sheath paired with selections of fabrics and matching men's shirts left me in awe. There are drawings by his fabric artists and designers to amazing hand printed fabrics that were produced by his craftsmen.

Wall of Shirts - Early 1940s - 50s Rayon and Cotton Shirts

Tradewind 02 - Early 1950s Cotton Dress with ribbon belt.

Shaheen was inspired by Hawaiian flora and fauna and combined this love with Polynesian, Asian and Middle Eastern imagery to create a synergistic fusion of tropical style with modern fashion. He is credited with creating the Hawaiian look. Alfred, who came from a Lebanese American family, had grown up in the textile business and learned from his parents. He opened his first shop, Shaheens of Honolulu, in 1948. He began by hiring seamstresses trained by his mother and started screening his own fabric designs and then he hired artists and trained them. He began with 4 machines and 6 employees while he did the fabric cutting. He initially started by producing 'Aloha Shirts' but they were different from his competitors in types of styles, and prints. He was known to send his artists to museums and libraries to research designs as well as to travel to gain knowledge of cultural ethnic designs.

Indian Border Painting - original gouache artwork from Shaheen textile design

Octopus - Early 1950s Cotton Two Piece Bathing suit

Alfred developed his own large scale imagery, differentiating himself from other manufacturers by creating 24" repeats in his designs. Most of his competitors were creating "hash" prints with a 15" repeat in the design. He also created fabulous border prints which he used successfully in his garments. This set him apart from other manufactures of Hawaiian style clothing and made him the king of the Hawaiian garment industry. 1n 1950, the Korean war tied up not only money but fabric so Shaheen said "If I am going to survive in this business, I have got to control the fabric."

Happy Talk - Mid 1960s Cotton Dress with Belt

Display Case - On the top of Asian Spring fabric yardage is a selection of Alfred Shaheen labels, hang tags, story hangtags and assorted buttons.

His textile artists created over 6,000 designs between 1948 and 1988. Shaheen said: "What I did was to make my designs more demonstrative. The first this I did was to have my artists go into the Bishop Museum and study the tapas, and look for artifacts that could be illustrated. Basically what I wanted them to do was create a textile design that had some meaning to it, to write a story about each textile design. We tried to put in more substance into the design, and on the hang tag we'd write the story behind the design." Man, what I wouldn't give for one of those hang tags, or even the dress behind it!

Lace Fans - Mid 1960s Triacetate & Cotton blend Dress

Tiki Tapa - Mid 1950s Cotton Bathing suit

Joss Sticks - Early 1950s Cotton Sundress

Tahitian Girl - Early 1950s Cotton Dress with Straps

Alfred, ever the innovator of his time, went on to market his own in store three dimensional boutiques called 'East Meets West" in high end finer department stores; such as Bloomingdales and Bullocks, helping him to brand his line of clothing and swimwear. He eventually had 140 of these stores across the USA. Tourists and manufacturers helped to spread his clothing and prints throughout the US.

Geisha 02 - late 1950s Silk Angel mu'u

The exhibit will travel to the Arab American National Museum in Michigan, Washington State University, Maui Cultural Center, University of Hawaii, then to Los Angeles to FIDM (tentative). There will also be another exhibit at the Fullerton Museum in Orange County, California next summer that will focus on the Hawaiian design aesthetics of Shaheen.

Special thanks go out to Connie DeWitt, Jess and the staff at the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles for providing images of the show. There are even more images on their website located here and here and here. A Bravo to Camille Shaheen-Tunberg!

Be sure to come back and visit GlamourSplash this week as we'll be blogging about Shaheen all week with a very special surprise thrown in!


puddin said...

Thank you for this blog--- I know you have always liked Shaheen>

thespectrum said...

What a fabulous post, thanks so much for letting me experience at least part of the exhibit through your eyes.

I look forward to more on Shaheen, he was indeed a pure genius.

Kiki von Tiki said...

Thanks for the great post and pics! I adore Shaheen and can't wait to see this exhibit in LA. I'll be reading along for more!

Zoom Video and Photographic Arts said...


Artemis Sadlier said...

We lived in Hawaii from 1951 to 1952. I recently came across a Watumull sun dress with matching jacket and muumuu that I wore when I was two and a half years old. I did not realize until now that Mr. Watumull did not move to Hawaii until 1949, the year I was born!