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Aloha ha ha

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Although they’re stranded in suburbia, Jim and Pam Cocores act as though they live in an island paradise.

They’ve decorated their Laguna Beach apartment and Arcadia home like beach houses complete with tiki lamps, hula wiggler dolls, travel posters of the islands, vintage surfboards and 1940s rattan furniture. Both like to tool around in old Woodie Fords while wearing vintage Hawaiian shirts.

“We love the island life and wanted to bring that Hawaiian feeling here,” Jim said.

Island style has caught on with other mainlanders. This summer, many will sport fashions festooned with pineapples, palm trees, hibiscus and other tropical motifs. Not since Elvis donned Hawaiian shirts in “Blue Hawaii” have aloha prints been so popular this side of paradise.

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Tropical motifs have been a specialty of Hoffman California Fabrics in Mission Viejo since 1950. The fabric maker, founded in 1924, recently has seen a wave of clothing manufacturers wanting new versions of Hawaiian prints and reproductions from the company’s large library of designs.

“The Hawaiian trend has been building over the past three years, and right now it’s just powering,” said Walter Hoffman, president. “When you see department stores and New Yorkers asking for Hawaiian prints, you know it’s come back strong.”

Manufacturers have been creating prints with ukuleles, island scenes, outrigger canoes, surfboards and tropical blooms.

“They’re doing new patterns with an antique flavor. They’re taking something out of old designs and changing it,” Hoffman said.

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Orange County fashion companies, including Roxy, Girl Star and Toes on the Nose, have also gone Hawaiian, using aloha prints on board shorts, bikinis, T-shirts and other beach togs.

Roxy/Quiksilver in Costa Mesa has used aloha prints for its juniors’ boardshorts, dresses and capris since its launch four years ago and still finds fresh ways to use hibiscus and other floral and island prints.

“I thought we’d drained it two years ago, but we keep finding new prints we like,” said Lissa

Zwahlen, design director for Roxy. The latest collections feature bold flowers with dot textures and shading (Roxy is carried at Nordstrom and surf and specialty shops).

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“We like to use really large-scale, simple graphics with a floral or bold look,” Zwahlen said. “Our prints usually have three colors, max. They’re almost cartoon-like.” This summer’s tropical palette features bright red, jade, blue and acid yellow; next year’s colors will border on neon.

“It’s a happy, fun vibe,” she said.

Aloha prints have been a mainstay for Toes on the Nose in Irvine. The 5-year-old clothing line has always used hibiscus, wiggler dolls, long boards, maps of the islands and other tropical motifs on casual clothes for men, women, juniors and children.

“Every year the interest in Hawaiian prints has gotten stronger,” said Corin Lopez, designer for Toes on the Nose. “A lot of other companies have picked it up, but it’s not their whole line.”

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Among Toes’ recent offerings: Hawaiian shirts with beige hibiscus on earth-toned backgrounds of sage green, navy or red ($52); a long resort dress with spaghetti straps in a black and ivory pineapple print ($72); girls’ hibiscus print board shorts in red and white ($44); and matching overalls for toddlers ($46). The line is carried at Nordstrom, Huntington Surf & Sport in Huntington Beach, Kayaks in Costa Mesa and the Toes on the Nose store in Laguna Beach.

“I find vintage Hawaiian shirts in thrift stores and on Melrose” for inspiration, Lopez said. “The old fabrics are so great. We try to re-create them. The print sells the shirt.”

The Cocoreses, who own the Toes on the Nose store (the clothing line is under different ownership), sell aloha fashions as well as kitschy Hawaiiana, including hula dolls and lamps, carved tikis, toy ukuleles, pineapple salt and pepper shakers and souvenir ashtrays from the islands.

“Hawaiiana from the ‘40s and ‘50s is getting harder and harder to find,” Pam said.

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Fifties-era hula dolls that originally sold for 59 cents at Woolworth’s in downtown Waikiki now fetch $100 to $150. Carnival lamps featuring plaster hula dancers, given to winners of arcade games, can go for hundreds. Even the beautifully illustrated menus from Hawaiian cruise lines have become collectible.

Jim Cocores restores old VWs and owns 1950 and 1939 Ford Woodies. He lived in Hawaii while in the Navy from 1969 to 1972 and fell in love then with island living.

He began collecting vintage long boards and Hawaiian shirts long before many realized their worth. Almost everything in the Cocoreses’ Laguna Beach apartment--including the bamboo-printed dishware and kidney-shaped rattan coffee table--is vintage tiki style.

Island fashions and furnishings came into vogue in America in the late ‘50s and ‘60s. Hawaii became a state in 1959, and Americans began flocking there for dream vacations, bringing back tiki trinkets.

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Annette and Frankie beach movies helped spread island style, as did airline posters featuring idyllic scenes of very American-looking hula girls dancing on the beach in grass skirts.

Lopez loves not only the vintage shirts but also hula dolls (she keeps her collection in her office) and funky, vintage upholstery in aloha prints.

“I have my patio and rooms decorated with big, bold hibiscus flowers,” she said. “That whole Hawaiian scene is such a great lifestyle.”


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