Tuesday, September 07, 2010


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Man who popularized the Hawaiian shirt and other “aloha wear” revolutionized apparel design, manufacturing and marketing techniques

Oct. 7 opening reception attendees encouraged to don tropical attire

Dearborn, MI (Sept. 7, 2010) – Colorful, short-sleeved men’s shirts with bold, tropical-themed prints are ubiquitous today in mainstream America. However, in the mid-20th century, such garments were treasured souvenirs, “aloha wear” brought back from Hawaiian vacations and unavailable on the U.S. mainland. So fashionable were they that Elvis Presley wore a Hawaiian shirt on the cover of his 1961 LP, the soundtrack to one of his most successful films ever, Blue Hawaii. That shirt was created by Alfred Shaheen.

What The King and all those tourists didn’t know about these shirts, and the Asian-inspired women’s and children’s wear also being produced by Shaheen (1922-2008) in Hawaii, were the design and technical innovations they represented. Shaheen, a Lebanese American and an engineer by training, consolidated textile design, production and apparel manufacturing under one roof, becoming a creative master of these crafts and reaching new levels of artistry and achievement.

At the same time, he revitalized the Pacific Island/Asian textile traditions and forged a fashion/design aesthetic representing both the transnational culture of Hawaii and a broader, West Coast “American” lifestyle that is informal, environmentally aware and multicultural.

The Arab American National Museum proudly presents Hawaii’s Alfred Shaheen: Fabric to Fashion, the first major retrospective exhibition of Hawaiian textiles and “aloha wear” manufactured by Shaheen on the island of Oahu over a 40-year period. Dozens of samples of Shaheen textiles and garments are augmented by archival photographs and advertising that illuminate his design, manufacture and marketing techniques. The exhibition was created by the San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles (SJMQT) in collaboration with Shaheen’s daughter, Camille Shaheen-Tunberg.

The exhibition, October 7, 2010 through March 13, 2011 in the Main Floor Gallery, is free with Museum admission.

All are welcome to attend an opening reception with complimentary refreshments at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, October 7, at the Museum, 13624 Michigan Ave. in Dearborn.  Attendees are strongly urged, but not required, to sport Hawaiian shirts and other tropical attire to the opening.

“Hawaiian textile art, especially designs from the 1940s and 50s, have a quality unsurpassed in other decades,” says Hawaiian textile scholar Dr. Linda Arthur, who co-curated the original exhibition with Deborah Corsini, an SJMQT curator.

“Shaheen championed the idea of using Hawaiian textile art as a means of expressing ethnicity and, as an innovative businessman, employed artists as salaried employees and was the first to use modern fashion promotion and marketing on the Islands.”

For his “City of Craftsmen,” Shaheen pioneered a silk-screening method; hired employees of Hawaiian, Japanese, Chinese and other ethnicities; gave them professional training and then mined the visual iconography of Hawaii’s multi-ethnic community to create a new design aesthetic.

The results, as seen in the exhibition, are garments with an exuberant profusion of color, pattern and sophisticated compositions that capture the lushness of a tropical climate and the spirit of Pacific Island culture. Rare early Shaheen garments remain highly desirable among collectors of vintage textiles and fashions, while later designs are in greater supply and more reasonably priced on online auction sites.

The Arab American National Museum documents, preserves, celebrates and educates the public on the history, life, culture and contributions of Arab Americans. It serves as a resource to enhance knowledge and understanding about Arab Americans and their presence in this country.  The Arab American National Museum is a project of ACCESS, a Dearborn, Michigan-based nonprofit human services and cultural organization. Learn more at www.arabamericanmuseum.org and www.accesscommunity.org.

The Arab American National Museum is a proud Affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Read about the Affiliations program at http://affiliations.si.edu.

The Museum is located at 13624 Michigan Avenue, Dearborn, MI, 48126. Museum hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; noon-5 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday, Tuesday; Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Admission is $6 for adults; $3 for students, seniors and children 6-12; ages 5 and under, free. Call 313.582.2266 for further information.