Perhaps it was the tiki night I attended last night, or maybe I am just longing for the warm weather to get here already, but I’m feeling like a little Hawaiiana. I don’t know about you, but I am really looking forward to lounging around poolside with a tropical drink this summer, and there’s just about nothing better to wear for that occasion than something inspired by the work of Alfred Shaheen.
If you aren’t familiar with Shaheen, he was a textile pioneer who operated from his adopted home of Oahu, building and running the most innovative Hawaiian brands for over 40 years. Today, Shaheen dresses are some of the most collectible vintage pieces out there, and with good reason. They look incredible.
Shaheen engineered and built the machinery that printed, dyed, and finished all of his fabrics, which incorporated elements and motifs from Hawaii, Asia, and the South Pacific. The Alfred Shaheen website says that he pioneered silk screening methods, printing 600,000 yards of fabric per month by 1952, and that he attributed his success to his ability to print his fabric.
“In his in-house training department, Shaheen and his mother, Mary, trained artists, printers, screeners, finishers, seamstresses, and models. These highly-trained individuals became known as Alfred Shaheen’s City of Craftsmen and produced the extraordinary garments that made Shaheen the largest aloha wear manufacturer in Hawaii in the 1950s and 1960s.”
I love this idea of a “City of Craftsmen,” but also the way he controlled so many aspects of production. Rarely does a single person’s vision get carried out this way, but his talent and focus certainly shows in the fabric and clothing he produced.
My favorites are definitely the early sarong and halter styles. These are also the most highly sought-after, and it’s easy to see why. They have impeccable construction and shapes that seriously flatter.
Later dresses featured some stunning large scale engineered prints, usually a tropical floral motif on a simple shift or maxi dress.
Want to make your own Shaheen-inspired creation? You can still pick up vintage Shaheen fabric here and there, and there are some real beauties.
This fabric is just incredible and reminds me of Van Gogh’s Branches with Almond Blossom:
This fabric even comes with a pattern for making your shift dress. How cool is that?