Inventor of Hawaiian Shirt Says Final Aloha


Alfred Shaheen, the inventor of the "aloha shirt" worn by everyone from returning World War II vets to Elvis Presley to slob frat boys to fictional fruit-drink pitchman and rageaholic "Punchy," has died at the age of 86. His technically and culturally innovative shirts didn't just throw bright colors and shimmering fabrics out into circulation; they were one small but noteworthy contribution to the ongoing and wonderful globalizing and mongrelizing of post-war society and fashion. From The Los Angeles Times obit:

Elvis Presley wore a Shaheen-designed red aloha shirt featured on the album cover for the "Blue Hawaii" soundtrack in 1961.

Born into a family established in the textile business, Shaheen maintained high standards by controlling the process from start to finish at the factory he built in Honolulu.

He hired professional artists and silk-screened their designs on silk, rayon and cotton fabrics he imported to Hawaii. Then his seamstresses cut and pieced together garments that were sold at his own shops and other retail outlets in Hawaii or exported to the mainland and around the world.

"He was a genius," Dale Hope, art director for the Honolulu-based Kahala shirt maker and author of "The Aloha Shirt: Spirit of the Islands," told The Times. "He knew more about the inner workings of all of the elements of printing, the garment business and wholesaling and retailing and distribution. He was really a bright, sharp and smart man."…

Most of the patterns featured three to five colors that laborers applied to silk screens by hand, saturating the fabric. Artists in the Shaheen studio had more than 1,000 dye colors to choose from, including innovative metallic shades, and they consulted rare books, libraries and museum collections. Sometimes Shaheen sent the designers on field trips to Tahiti and other exotic locales to soak up the culture for future work.

More here.