Shaheen's legacy has lived on and now his pieces are collectible. Do you feel he ever considered this as a young man?
No. My father’s main goal was to support his family, provide a living for his employees, and create clothing that had meaning. Even in his 80s, after receiving Hawaii’s lifetime achievement award and being honored as one of the 150 most important influences in Hawaii’s history, he didn’t understand how much he had accomplished. When I tried to explain it to him, he said: Honey, I was just doing my job. My father started in 1948 on the site of the original Shaheen family home. His first print plant, Surf 'n Sand Handprints, was established in a Quonset hut on the outskirts of Honolulu in the early-1950s. Within a decade, his clothing and fabrics were famous worldwide. He attributed this accomplishment to the fact that he printed his own fabrics. The image below was the new state-of-the-art factory Shaheen's occupied in 1957.
Honolulu Star Bulletin, 1956
Honolulu Star Bulletin, 1956
Where did Shaheen draw his inspiration from?
My father drew his inspiration from authentic cultural art, museums, and rare books. He visited foreign countries with his design staff. They would immerse themselves in the local culture and design new prints and a line of clothing based on their experiences. This is why Shaheen fabrics and clothing are filed with imagery drawn from many different cultures. This is also why you find labels with names such as "Hong Kong by Alfred Shaheen," which is the line of clothing he created based on their experiences in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong by Alfred Shaheen label
New York Times
How did Shaheen get the title "Master Printer"?
My father produced five lines a year. In a matter of days after breaking a line, he would see copies of his prints being offered by other manufacturers for a less expensive price. He couldn't lower his prices to compete with the less-expensive copies because he had incurred the development costs. When my father discussed this problem with his staff, someone suggested it was important to tell customers that Shaheen clothing is more expensive because Shaheen is the original -- Shaheen is the Master Printer. My father felt comfortable with the phrase and the label Alfred Shaheen, the Master Printer, was established.
Alfred Shaheen, the Master Printer
An example of one of these copied prints is the Tiare Tapa. Because Elvis Presley wore the Tiare Tapa in his movie poster for Blue Hawaii, the Tiare Tapa has been reproduced for decades by clothing manufacturers and those seeking to market Elvis. Some have even renamed the print "Blue Hawaii." But, as my father stated, the Tiare Tapa was a famous Shaheen print long before Elvis wore it.
Tiare Tapa on
Shaheen's Spencer Dress
Shaheen's Spencer Dress
Why did Shaheen decide to branch away from the traditional loose-fitting Hawaiian attire?
My father rarely made traditional loose-fitting Hawaiian mu'us. His focus was making women look beautiful and sophisticated. On the rare occasions that he made loose-fitting mu'us, he made them from fantastic fabrics with dramatic cuts. For example, one of the pieces shown in the SJMQT exhibit is a loose-fitting mu'u created from fabric that is heavily hand-screened with Indian paisleys in a rainbow of metallic colors. The yoke is fashioned from black velvet, which crosses the shoulders and dips deep into the back, ending with a black velvet bow.
Loose-fitting mu'u with tiare print
Beverly Noa, 1956
Beverly Noa, 1956
Did Shaheen ever produce children's clothing?
Yes. From the 1950s through the mid-1960s, children's clothing was a big part of Shaheen production. During the 1950s, families loved matching outfits.
Shaheen Fashion Show
Do you have a favorite design?
My favorite design is the Pua Lani Pareau. Like the Tiare Tapa, the Pua Lani Pareau has been reproduced indiscriminately by clothing manufacturers for decades. Although a contemporary Hawaiian shirt company has renamed the print and uses it as its signature print, the Pua Lani Pareau will always be an Alfred Shaheen original. The Pua Lani Pareau is the most famous Hawaiian print in history -- it is synonymous with the Hawaiian mystique and a visual representation of Hawaii throughout the world.
Pua Lani Pareau
What steps are you taking to continue the brand?
The Alfred Shaheen name and prints have been licensed for different products. This month, Suburban Home, a division of Duralee, is unveiling Surf ‘n Sand by Alfred Shaheen, a line of fabrics for indoor and outdoor furnishings. Also this month, FreeSpirit Fabric, a division of Westminster Fibers, is releasing 25 Hawaiian and Asian prints on fabrics for crafting, quilting, and home sewing. Seascape Lamps produces Shaheen lighting; and in 2011, we’re looking forward to rugs by Chanda Rugs and dinnerware by Precidio Design. In addition to licensing, we create unique prints for special clients. For example, for Huggo’s Restaurant on the Big Island, we designed a special Tiki Pareau print to cover 1,600 square feet of outdoor umbrellas.
Tiki Pareau Umbrellas
How large is your collection of your father's work?
My collection is substantial because I collect men’s, women’s, and children’s clothing, and fabrics, patterns, original textile designs, vintage photographs and advertisements, shoes, hats, jewelry – even perfume! My father also created magnificent drapery fabrics, which I also collect, along with documents and business-related items from Shaheen's, which existed for 40 years.
Are there plans for a Shaheen museum?
I’d love to be involved in helping to establish a museum that would include not just Shaheen, but all of the Old Masters of the Hawaiian garment industry. It would be important that such a project also include the special and creative people who contributed so much, but who are rarely recognized. Examples of such people are the brilliant textile designers, Bob Sato and Tony Walker, and fashion designer, Richard Goodwin. Another example is the innovative Pat Dorian, who invented the reverse-print shirt. Dorian's invention set the stage for a revolution in Hawaii's fashion industry and business world.
Bob Sato, Tony Walker & Richard Goodwin
How did the current show at the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles come about?
My father's death in 2008 brought a new wave of appreciation for his accomplishments. Museums and historians contacted me to arrange for exhibits, advising me that my father's globalization of ethnic imagery on textiles and clothing spawned the multicultural aesthetic "fusion fashion," which is the combining of different cultural elements and traditions in western-styled clothing. They advised that the fusion fashion design aesthetic he originated is now recognized worldwide as the visual marker for transnational Hawaiian culture and our modern-day informal, environmentally aware, multicultural West Coast "American" lifestyle. The show at the San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles will travel to Michigan, Washington, Hawaii, and Los Angeles. A separate museum exhibit focusing on my father's design aesthetic is scheduled to open next summer in Orange County, California.
Alfred ShaheenAll images provided and copyrighted by Camille Shaheen-Tunberg and may not be used without permission.