If not for master fabric printer Alfred Shaheen, Aloha Fridays would have a lot less aloha. In postwar Hawaii, Shaheen (1922-2008) revolutionized the garment industry by designing, printing and producing aloha attire. He raised the garments to a new level of high fashion, which transcended the sometimes tacky tropical-print shirts and sundresses worn by service members and tourists in the 1930s, '40s and '50s. Much of today's aloha wear worn locally and beyond can be threaded back to Shaheen's innovations.
"Alfred Shaheen: Fabric to Fashion," a new exhibition to celebrate the legacy of the Hawaiian print maker and the fusion fashion aesthetic he sparked, will open at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center's Schaefer International Gallery on Wednesday. The Kahului show is the first major retrospective exhibition of Hawaiian textiles and aloha wear manufactured by Shaheen over four decades on Oahu. It will run through Oct. 29.
To commemorate the exhibition, the MACC will host the "Couture Hawai'i Fashion Show" at 6 p.m. Saturday in the Yokouchi Pavilion Courtyard (See Events on Page 12 for details).
Also, co-curators Dr. Linda Bradley, Hawaiian textile scholar, and Deborah Corsini, San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles curator, will present exhibition lectures from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday in the MACC's Alexa Higashi Meeting Room, followed by an opening reception in the gallery. Bradley will discuss "The East Met the West in Hawai'i: Cultural Influence in Alfred Shaheen's Ethnic Textile Designs." Museum curator Corsini will present "Exhibition Highlights: The San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles." Lectures are free.
The exhibition will feature more than 100 pieces drawn from the collection of Camille Shaheen Tunberg, Alfred Shaheen's daughter. Stunning yardage representing the textile designs Shaheen produced and key examples of the men's, women's and children's garments that visually conjure Hawaii's complex cultural history will be on display. In addition to textiles, the exhibit will showcase archival photos and ads that illuminate how the textiles and garments were designed, manufactured and marketed.
A Lebanese immigrant/engineer, Shaheen pioneered a silk-screening method and professionally trained his employees, who were Hawaiian, Japanese, Chinese and other ethnicities, as his City of Craftsmen, to create a new design aesthetic. Even Elvis Presley wore a Shaheen-designed red aloha shirt featured on the album cover for the "Blue Hawaii" soundtrack in 1961.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a comprehensive collection of vintage Shaheen apparel and fabric," said Neida Bangerter, Schaefer gallery director, in a release. "The exhibit will certainly have a seductive appeal for islanders who remember wearing Shaheen and spark a new interest and appreciation for others. His apparel designs brought an authenticity to the influence of the ethnic design and put Hawaii on the international fashion map."
Schaefer is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday and before Castle Theater shows and during intermission; admission is always free. For details, visit www.mauiarts.org.