Wednesday, November 25, 2015         

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Exhibit features creator of famed 'Blue Hawaii' shirt

By Nadine Kam


Although the ease of photoreproduction has allowed many companies to sell what's become known as the Elvis Presley "Blue Hawaii" camp shirt, credit for the original aloha shirt goes to Hawaii garment manufacturer Alfred Shaheen, subject of the Bishop Museum exhibition "HI Fashion: The Legacy of Alfred Shaheen."

Original Tiare Tapa shirts in red, green and blue are featured in the exhibition, which continues through Feb. 25.

Shaheen's daughter, Camille Shaheen-Tunberg, said she was just a baby when "The King" donned the red Tiare Tapa aloha shirt and made it famous around the world. The combination of the 1961 film and photograph of the lei-draped singer in the shirt helped set off a Pacific island craze that included the spread of aloha shirts, ukulele and tiki culture.

"There were a lot of Shaheen clothes in ‘Blue Hawaii,' and I never really talked to him about that although he did say it was already a popular print before Elvis wore it," Shaheen-Tunberg said. According to the Elvis Presley Enterprises Archives, Edith Head was the costume designer for the film. She provided the shirt, but they have no information as to how she acquired it.

A statehood edition of Hawaiian Paradise of the Pacific magazine in 1959 featured the famous print, incorporated in a strapless, hourglass "Spencer" dress modeled by Ellen Wellman.

At its peak, Alfred Shaheen's company supplied major national retailers such as Bullock's, Macy's and Bergdorf Goodman.

He shuttered the business in 1988 after struggling with the arrival of cheap imported goods and an economic downturn. Shaheen died in 2008, but his daughter carries on his legacy, including striking licensing deals with home furnishing companies and garment manufacturers.

Westminster Fabrics recently reproduced the Tiare Tapa print, which sold out immediately. If Elvis mania catches on again, demand might spark the shirt's return.


"HI Fashion: The Legacy of Alfred Shaheen" is on exhibit through Feb. 25. Call 847-3511 or visit

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