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Meet Alfred Shaheen: The 1950s fashion dream VINTAGE FASHION INDUSTRY HERO & MAKER OF MInDBLOWING DRESSES

By RHIANNON

We need to talk about this dress from RetroStar Vintage Clothing.

Because, dear reader, this is what dreams are made of.

Have you ever heard people raving about someone you haven’t met yet? Who they say is beautiful, fun and fascinating? And then you finally meet them…

This is how I felt when I met an Alfred Shaheen dress in person. You see, Shaheen dresses are raved about in vintage fashion circles. They are lusted after in old magazines; they are feverishly pinned to ‘Dream Outfit’ boards on Pinterest; they’re hunted, collected and unashamedly adored by vintage fashionistas worldwide and now that I’ve met one in person…

Someone better disable my heart-eyes emoji because I understand exactly what the fuss is about.

The design

Although he made men’s Hawaiian shirts (including the one Elvis wore on the cover of the ‘Blue Hawaii’ album) and other styles of dresses, Shaheen’s sarong-inspired dress, or Hawaiian Bombshell Dress, was one of his most definitive. Created to enhance curves thanks to its clever inner construction, this dress epitomises the 1950s 'pinup' style. But there’s more…

Shaheen added a detachable sash for a thrilling flourish that pours pure glamour over the wearer’s shoulder.

It’s like the most stylish superhero cape the world has ever seen.

I’m not the only one in love…

All original Shaheen dresses are highly coveted, but Brown Label Shaheen pieces (like this dress) are rare and supremely collectable vintage items. Why? Well that silky little chocolate-coloured label means the garment was made in the glamour days of the 1950s. It means you’re dealing with a dress that emerged mostly unscathed from the height of its desirability.

And that’s quite a feat, because nothing that loves curves this much was meant to spend its life on a hanger.

There’s a good story behind the brand too:

Alfred Shaheen set up his clothing company in 1948 in Hawaii. At first he used printed fabrics brought in from the US mainland, but quickly progressed to making his own. He hired professional artists to design in-house, before screen-printing their artwork onto silk, cotton or rayon. This savvy businessman now created clothing entirely to his own specifications – which meant high quality and high fashion. (This dress demonstrates both perfectly. *Swoon*)

What’s more, Shaheen’s shift to in-house production boosted Hawaii’s economy to such a degree it earned him Hawaii's Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001. As the only Hawaiian manufacturer to print his own fabrics at the time, and as an employer of over 400 Hawaiian residents by 1959, Shaheen’s company helped give Hawaii a rightful slice of the action while the world enjoyed its love affair with Hawaiian-inspired clothing. Shaheen’s business model was also praised for aiding more diverse representation within the fashion industry.

The prints

Each Alfred Shaheen piece uses a rich colour palette and beautiful prints which are a testament to his own expertise and the skill of his artists. In fact, Hawaiian fashion industry expert Linda Arthur believes that each Shaheen garment is ‘like a piece of moving art’, and many collectors even frame the clothing. (Maybe just until we're allowed to go to parties again, am I right?!)

But these prints also represent the artists’ interpretation of the rich cultural history surrounding them.

Many of Shaheen's textiles can be viewed as an ode to the people, the prints, and the paradise of Hawaii, Asia and the South Pacific.

Shaheen drew much inspiration from traditional bark cloth fabric known as tapa (kapa in Hawaii), but his artists also travelled the globe seeking inspiration.

A piece of history

While we might meet a million mass-produced printed dresses in modern fashion stores, original vintage garments invite us to explore the deeper origins of the designs, and give credit where it’s due.

As a lover of most things 1950s, it’s been thrilling to meet this Shaheen original.

After all I’ve heard about it, this dress has greeted me like a well-preserved postcard from paradise, and lived up to all the wonderful things they said.

RetroStar Vintage Clothing has many more speciality vintage pieces available in store and online. Why not start your own vintage love story?

Model: @Raya_Lavelle

Sources

http://www.alfredshaheen.com/

https://www.britannica.com/topic/sarong

https://www.hawaiinewsnow.com/story/20087607/hi-fashion-the-legacy-of-alfred-shaheen/

https://www.latimes.com/local/obituaries/la-me-shaheen4-2009jan04-story.html

https://mnch.uoregon.edu/collections-galleries/tapa-cloth

http://www.oldhollywoodfilms.com/2016/03/dorothy-lamour-fashion-icon-of-old.html?m=1

https://www.vogue.co.uk/article/alfred-shaheen-remembered

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tapa_cloth

Credits:

Created with an image by Evan Brandt - "Palm trees and tropical sunsets Insta: @Evan.Brandt"