The “TAHITI” Shirt
“Saigon Cowboy” mfsc Spring 2015 Collection.
The short tale of this Mister Freedom® “Tahiti Shirt” involves the Club Med village of a sun-drenched Greek island in the late 1950’s, and a young adventurer half my age.
In the Club Méditerranée tradition of their early beach-front vacation villages, GOs (Gentils Organisateurs, the nice staff) were often issued printed pareos, in order to stand out and better entertain the GM (Gentils Membres, the nice vacationers). Nothing spells fun-in-the-sun like Polynesian prints do. For the French, Tahiti is the ultimate exotic-sounding escape from the daily grind, known as metro/boulot/dodo (commute/work/sleep) by the Parisians. For baguette lovers, anything associated with Tahiti means H.O.L.I.D.A.Y.S (no, not Johnny), save for the nuclear mushrooms of Mururoa, maybe.
In some villages, these Tahiti-style colorful cloth wraps were cut & sewn into aloha tops by local tailors or whoever handled the sewing machine best. I own two of these vintage shirts, had them for years. Mine originally belonged to a young fellow who had done a short stint as a GO in Greece, sometime in 1957. For just a few months, but long enough to improve on his water ski and social skills, and shake the djebel dust and smell of war off his mind.
The year prior, he had been enjoying twelve months of bushwhacking in green fatigues in the arid Algerian mountains. Military service was mandatory in France in 1956, and if you had just missed ‘l’Indo‘, you were about ripe for ‘l’Algérie‘.
A French colony since 1830, Algeria had been at war with France since 1954, claiming back its autonomy. For Algerian nationalists who had closely watched the demise of the old French colonial powers in Indochina culminating in the Diem Bien Phu firework finale, independence didn’t seem like utopia anymore. If their Vietnamese comrades had done it, so could they. But generations of French Algeria-born Pieds-Noirs, harkis, …, and a coalition of rogue generals, were not giving up that easy. Ensued the epic and gruesome Guerre d’Algérie (1954-1962), a very touchy topic to this day between both countries. Just quote Charles De Gaulle’s “Je vous ai compris” (I understood you) to a Pied-Noir, and watch what happens… For one planning to vacation in Algiers over the holidays, mentioning the OAS while strolling in the Casbah will also prove a great ice breaker to meet friendly locals.
But like they say, one front at a time, we’ll get back to this one some other day…
After getting his diploma in paréo-ironing from the Greeks, our playboy waterski instructor made his way back to Algeria in the following years. This time roaming the mighty Sahara desert as a drilling scout for the CPA (Compagnie des Pétroles d’Algérie, an oil extracting venture in North Africa). While at it, he managed to give a pretty Pied-noir gal his GO shirt, and my Mum a new last name…
None of the green fatigues, but two of the Club Med “Tahiti” shirts along with old photo albums happened to survive my Dad’s tumultuous expat life. He had nothing but contempt for hoarding, a ‘give-it-all-away’ modus operandi not shared by my Mum who often resulted to hiding things in order to find then again! I have an inclination to not collect anything myself, but I admit the few old relics he did not succeed in getting rid of back then are priceless to me today. Gérard Loiron, you are missed.
Both shirts were sent to our Sugar Cane Co friends in Japan and the fabric and prints analyzed. Hats off to the Toyo textile experts who reconstituted the entire panel artwork without taking the vintage samples apart. The floral design is non-symmetrical, as can be seen on the paréo-ironing session photo, and the motif repeat was very difficult to recreate for the Sun Surf® Graphic Dept. But it seems there is nothing they can’t do when it comes to Aloha-type shirts. Otsukaresama deshita.
The base textile of our Tahiti shirt is reminiscent, in texture, of those vintage kitschy 1960’s/70’s cotton Hawaiian shirts sometimes referred to as ‘bark cloth’. In the 1940’s/50’s, a thick and heavy version of that dobby weave cotton cloth had become a standard feature in most American households, in the form of printed curtains and upholstery fabric.
All those vintage iterations were modern renditions of the ancient Hawaiian kapa (or tapa in Tahitian, meaning ‘the beaten thing’), the natural wood pulp bark cloth of early traditional Polynesian attire that so impressed Captain James Cook back in 1769. “This stuff is awesome! Where to cop?” he reportedly said on his final voyage to the Pacific Islands, before being clubbed on the beach. But you might want to double-check on that.
Our “Tahiti Shirt” in barkcloth-like cotton fabric comes in two color options, coined by the MF® Linguistic Dept as Moana (meaning the mighty Ocean ie. the Big Blue) and Ura (meaning red), for the sole purpose of qualifying you as the most fluent individual in Tahitian language of your neighborhood at this second.
At this point, a quite pertinent remark would be “how you planning to landfall that canoe in Saigon, son?“, in other words “The Nam?! Fun in the sun??!? wtf?!?!”
That’s when R&R comes in. No, not the devil’s music, I mean Rest & Recreation.
During their 12 or 13-month Vietnam tour, American soldiers could take a one-time leave out of Vietnam, for a maximum of 30 days. Jungle fatigues were dropped at the departure air base, khakis slipped on, and civvy clothing often rented at the destination. Popular escapes were Hawaii, Sydney, Bangkok, Hong Kong… from where souvenirs and loads of crusty epic stories were brought back.
Additionally, shorter in-country R&R were awarded to wary grunts with an urgent need to go cool off away from Agent Orange and Victor Charlie for a few days. The South China Sea waters of Cam Ranh Bay, Vung Tau, and the famed Da Nang China Beach saw many a sunburnt GIs come and go during the 10 years of the Vietnam war. Some days, those beaches almost looked like beaches at home, save for the M-16 of the US Marine lifeguard on tower duty, or the occasional bandages from hospital ships washing ashore. Sorry ’bout that.
Cinephiles will also notice that the Mister Freedom® “Tahiti shirt” is a nod to the famous M*A*S*H* war comedy film and TV series, which featured characters (“Trapper John” or “Hawkeye”) flashing a floral shirt in the context of a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. A wardrobe oxymoron, intended to highlights the level of gallows humor necessary in the field to help deal with the absurdity and brutality of war.
“... it was so far out, you couldn’t blame anybody for believing anything. Guys dressed up in batman fetishes, I saw a whole squad like that, it gave them a kind of dumb esprit. Guys stuck the ace of spades in their helmet bands, they picked relics off of an enemy they’d killed, a little transfer of power; they carried around five pound bibles from home, crosses, St. Christophers, Mezuzahs, locks of hair, girlfriends’ underwear, snaps of their families, their wives, their dogs, their cows, their cars, pictures of John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Martin Luther King, Huey Newton, the Pope, Che Guevara, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, wiggier than cargo cultists.”
(Excerpt from Michael Herr’s ‘Dispatches‘, correspondent for Esquire Magazine in Vietnam, 1967-1969.)
Anyways, the “Tahiti shirt” was designed in California by Mister Freedom® and manufactured in Japan in collaboration with Sugar Cane Co.
100% cotton ‘bark cloth’ like dobby fabric base. 1950’s Polynesian floral design print replica. Fabric milled in Japan.
* Original mfsc updated pattern, inspired by authentic 1950’s local-made tourist attire.
* Long sleeve.
* French style col requin (shark fin shape collar)
* Genuine coconut shell buttons.
* Matching single chest pocket.
* No back yoke.
* Side slits.
* Flat-felled seam chainstitch construction, narrow folder.
* High count 100% cotton tonal stitching.
* Limited edition.
* Made in Japan.
The “Tahiti” shirt comes raw/unwashed and will shrink to tagged size after an original cold soak/line dry.
If you are a Medium in mfsc shirting, you are a Medium in this shirt.
We recommend an initial cold soak, spin dry and line dry. Please refer to sizing chart for measurements reflecting this method.
Launder when hygiene dictates and common sense prevails.
Machine wash. Cold water, gentle cycle, eco-friendly mild detergent and line dry.