August 24th, 2011 / posted by paularath

Shaheen's Pua Nani dress, courtesy of Camille Shaheen Tunberg.

Alfred Shaheen’s Pua Nani dress. Photo courtesy of Camille Shaheen Tunberg.

I remember when I was a little girl, my mother and I would shop in the Alfred Shaheen store in Waikiki. In the eyes of a child, it was a sort of magical place, almost a cacophony of color, with the most spectacular ethnic prints inspired by Japan, China and other exotic locales, in addition, of course, to Hawaii. The silhouettes spoke to me of the movie star glamour of the ’50s and ’60s.

It’s not surprising that many of the Island-inspired designs appearing on runways all over the world in 2011 have roots in the textiles and garments of Shaheen.

For the first time, Island folks will have a chance to celebrate the legacy of this extremely gifted textile designer, master fabric printer and fashion designer whose business was a dominant force in our local fashion industry from the late ’40s until his retirement in 1988.

Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s (MACC) Schaefer International Gallery will open Hawaii’s Alfred Shaheen: Fabric to Fashion on Wednesday, September 7. The exhibit will run through October 29. This is the first major retrospective exhibition of Hawaiian textiles and aloha wear manufactured by Shaheen.

The exhibit will feature more than 100 objects drawn from the collection of Camille Shaheen Tunberg, Shaheen’s daughter.

Shaheen, a Lebanese immigrant, studied math, physics and aeronautical engineering at Whittier College. This knowledge enabled him to design and build his own manufacturing machinery to print, dye and finish his fabrics.

His parents were custom clothiers and his mother taught him everything she knew about clothing construction. He started his business with four of the seamstresses trained by his parents. By the ’50s and ’60s he had 400 employees in what he referred to as his City of Craftsmen.

Neida Bangerter, director of the Schaefer International Gallery at MACC, said “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to see a comprehensive collection of vintage Shaheen apparel and fabric. 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.”

The exhibit is co-curated by Deborah Corsini, San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles Curator, and Linda Arthur Bradley, PhD., Hawaiian textile scholar and former professor at U.H.-Manoa.

Bradley explained: “Hawaiian textile art, especially designs form the 1940s and ’50s, have a quality unsurpassed in other decades. 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.”

The gallery is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., as well as before Castle Theater shows and during intermission. Admission is always free. For more information on the exhibit contact Bangerter at (808) 243-4288 or

Design by Maggie Coulombe. Photo by Davis Chu Photography.

To commemorate the exhibition, MACC is hosting a “Couture Hawaii Fashion Show” on Saturday, September 3, starting at 6 p.m. in the Yokouchi Pavilion Courtyard. The runway event will feature the latest collections of Maggie Coulombe and Bernard Foong of Maui and Anne Namba of Oahu. The show will begin with vintage Shaheen aloha shirts and dresses, as well as a small student collection from Maui Community College’s Couture Club. Host for the show will be Honolulu fashion designer and Project Runway star Andy South.

Designer Andy South, who will host the fashion show.

Tickets for the fashion show are $35 general admission and $100 VIP package. They can be picked up at the MACC box office or call (808) 242-7469 or go online at

On September 4, from 2 to 4 p.m., in the Alexis Higashi meeting room, informative lectures on the exhibit will be presented by co-curators Bradley and Corsini.

– Paula Rath

From Anne Namba's fall 2011 collection.

Design by Bernard Foong.

What are they saying?
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Maryanne Moe
November 5th, 2013 at 10:54 pm

I was updating my website, and in searching for information regarding the fashion show that happened at the MACC to kick off the Alfred Shaheen exhibit in the fall of 2011, I came across your website. As you seem enthralled by Shaheen, I thought I should introduce myself. For a few years now, I have been collecting Shaheen’s linen panels, and have quite an inventory of the fabric that Westminster was licensed to reproduce. Hope you will check out my website of OOAK handbags, in particular the Alfred Shaheen collection.
Mahalo, Maryanne

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