Models: Frankii Wilde, Miss Zara Ann and Little Gem
Photographs by Luna Photography
Clothes by Miss Fortune
When it comes to following Mid-Century fashion, it can be a bit of a minefield. Like any ‘scene’, there are certain trends that vintage gals tend to flock to, be that the Western ware, Mexican patio squaw dresses that everybody is raving about, or the hallowed fur-trimmed Lilli Ann princess coat. But one trend that refuses to go away… all things tiki and tropical.
Who wouldn’t love it? With bright, bursting colours, beautiful hair flowers, parasols and bamboo accessories, everyone can feel like they’re sipping a Mai Tai on a beach – even when it’s a wet, windy day in Grimsby.
Tiki or Polynesian culture is inspired by traditional Tiki carvings and Polynesian mythology, but it first became popular in the 1930s, when the ‘Don the Beachcomber’ restaurant was opened in Hollywood. This then led to the California World Fair choosing a theme of the ‘Pageant of the Pacific’ later the same year.
After World War 2, soldiers brought back souvenirs from the islands and with the rise of wages and introduction of cheaper airfares, people were able to travel to the beautiful places that they could previously have only dreamed about.
Hawaii also became the 50th state in 1959 and of course there are all of those famous Elvis movies… So began the tiki explosion.
My first experience of tiki was the amazing film ‘South Pacific.’ I remember watching it as a child and being mesmerised by the beautiful scenery of ‘Bill’s Bath Club’; the azure sea washing against the golden sand, fringed with palm trees. Not to mention the outfits and fabulous hairstyles. I knew that when I grew up, I wanted to look like them! The iconic “I’m gonna wash that man” song also came in handy later, when trying to get my son to have a bath!
Fast forward to today and a large proportion of my wardrobe is made up of repro tropical prints, bamboo accessories and carved Polynesian-style heels. I don’t yet own any original pieces, although I have been close to buying a few Alfred Shaheen’s that are getting like gold dust to find. I do, however, boast a tiki-style spare bedroom, complete with bamboo furniture and tiki mugs. Nevertheless, my modest collection is nothing. There are some ladies who love the style so much that it has become a huge part of their lifestyle.
Emma Edwards from Manchester is one such lady. Emma runs Miss Bamboo (www.missbamboo.co.uk) and has been in love with 40s/50s Polynesian style since she was a teenager. For Emma, what attracted her to Tiki was its glamorousness but with the more fun kitsch elements thrown in. She says:
“My interest in the history of tiki and rum culture grew from this and since starting my business Miss Bamboo selling 40s/50s inspired American and Hawaiian clothing it has really become a whole lifestyle for me as Miss Bamboo!”
Emma’s interest has also led to her becoming friends with some great designers and collectors in the UK/European tiki scene. In fact, one of her best experiences was going to Paris last year to ‘tiki guru’ and historian Sven Kirsten’s Tiki Pop exhibition and pre-opening party. “It was amazing to meet him personally and see the best collection of 20th century tiki artefacts and ephemera in world!”
But it isn’t just tropical fashion that influences the Mid-Century tiki fan. Hawaiian inspired home wares has also become big business, with tiki inspired pieces being sold in lots of mainstream high street stores. Emma is no different! Her love of the tiki style has influenced her home style massively and she likes to mix the kitsch elements with Mid-Century modern 50s style. “I have 3 bamboo tiki bars, a tiki deck in the garden complete with tiki water feature, vintage tropical wallpaper, a whole variety of Hawaiian and Polynesian ephemera and my growing collection of tiki mugs on display of course!”
For other ladies, their love of a bright print has led to the start of a passion for collecting vintage pieces that others would die for. Lori Jade Barker of Greyhound Vintage (www.etsy.com/greyhoundvintageuk), has a collection of Hawaiian style prints that could clothe a small island. For her, the appeal of Polynesian-inspired fashion, culture and decor goes hand in hand with her love of the 1940s and 1950s. As well as being aesthetically pleasing, Hawaii is exotic and in parts mysterious, which she adores.
Her first purchase was one of the Holy Grail of 40s and 50s collectors, a green ‘Fern Frond’ Alfred Shaheen sarong dress. However, they don’t come cheap and Lori had to pay for it in five monthly instalments…the wait must have killed her! Her thrifty eye has also led to a few bargains, with her snapping up a Watumull’s Pake Muu on Etsy for £15; they usually sell for in excess of £250.
Like Emma, Lori’s home has also been tiki-fied, “I have a lot of bamboo in my bedroom, along with tons of leopard print and huge original barkcloth curtains. I have a lot of Polynesian/tiki chalkware that sits alongside Nubian/African art too.”
So why do people love tiki so much? Simply put, it just looks beautiful! It’s colourful and bright and the patterns and designs are far more interesting than anything you can find today in the insipid offerings of high street brands. Also, the quality and workmanship that went into fabrics of that time is second to none, with many designs being hand drawn before printing or screen painting.
But overall, it brings a little taste of the exotic into your home and wardrobe, allowing you to escape into a glamorous world of exoticism and cocktails – which is much needed in dreary England! Clearly, tiki is a trend that is not going to go away. So if you’re going to invest in some original pieces it’s a great area to start collecting. So come on ladies, grab your cocktail and let’s go and have a luau.