“Would you like to come over for sushi?”
With a lunch invitation, what had been hoped for would come true. Jennifer and Kenn would meet Laurie Foster at her beautiful home in O’ahu, straight up the mountain above Diamondhead. Over sushi, they would soak up as much information as possible about her father, William “Bill” Foster, the original designer of the Sandwich Isle jacket and the man who gave us casual Fridays.
But, I’m jumping ahead of the story.
Jennifer grew up in a neighborhood full of TOPGUN commanders. Kenn’s parents were fashion-forward square dancers who had a wagon wheel saloon in their den. Growing up as thrift store kids in a community where military men were married to women from all over the Pacific, both Jennifer and Kenn developed a keen eye for vintage tiki at an early age. Jennifer’s mom created “Knox’s Knots” – carved tiki beads designed to be used in macramé plant hangers, while Kenn amassed a “ridiculously large” collection of aloha shirts as a teenager. It’s no wonder that the Lumi-La Lounge, Jennifer and Kenn’s home tiki bar, has lots of stories to tell. Ask Brigitte, the beautiful 1960s nude that will command your attention as you approach the bar for a tasty cocktail.
The Lumi-La Lounge is a happening spot both inside and out. Take a look around their newly-completed lanai, and you’ll find examples of Jennifer and Kenn’s eye for beautiful detail. Kenn has learned from friends and mentors to be a carver of tikis and a maker of lamps. Jennifer has planted the garden with Ti plants to ward off evil spirits and tropical flowers to lift the good ones. Their patio has been the stage for parties with local bands including Sea-Base (a four member ensemble with three basses and drummer), The Garners, and Fink Bombs. Throughout the bar, you’ll notice patterns of three lines carefully carved into the trim, representing the three members of their family: Jennifer, Kenn, and their daughter. When I asked how they learned all of the skills necessary to create the Lumi-La, Kenn was quick to answer:
“When I’m interested in something, I dig a little deeper.”
It’s a fitting quote. Kenn is well-known for his thorough and passionate research on one of the most coveted vintage clothing items in a polynesiac’s wardrobe – the Sandwich Isles jacket. Although he’s a bit modest, Jennifer lovingly describes Kenn as one of the world’s foremost authorities on the subject. Stemming from his early love of aloha shirts, Kenn became fascinated with these bold and beautiful jackets after others began misattributing the cut of the garment to the wrong period. Although many thought the style was from an earlier era, his eye told him that the jackets were late 60s in design. He had to know the definitive answer, so a quest was initiated. Out of the blue, he decided to write to an expert, Dale Hope, author of The Aloha Shirt. Dale, like so many tiki folks in our community, responded quickly and was immediately helpful.
“If you want to know about Sandwich Isles jackets, learn about the Foster family.”
Kenn took the suggestion to heart and started his research. Over the next two years, Kenn used publicly-available records and old photographs to construct a biography of Bill Foster, the man who promoted competitive wages in an industry not known for them, introduced Aloha (casual) Fridays, and served as the president of the Hawaiian Fashion Guild. With the help of talented developers like John McMann and additional designers like Akalp Sayin (who is responsible for the coat designs from the 70s), the design team revolutionized aloha styles with a semi-formal style of surf-inspired coats and slacks.
Foster’s Sandwich Isles Sportswear would be groovy for a decade. From the psychedelic 60s until the disco 70s (when Saturday Night Fever-inspired leisure suits became the next must-have), men would wear their bold printed jackets to work on Aloha Fridays or for a night out at a tiki palace. Thankfully, the Tiki Revival brought them back to life and into even higher style. Today, you can show up at any gathering of polynesiacs, and you’re likely find tiki folks wearing the original vintage jackets as well as new, handcrafted clothing in the same style from fabric artists like the talented Rocket Betty.
It wasn’t until Ken finally had the good luck of finding Laurie Foster, the daughter of William (Bill) and Mary Foster, that the pieces of the story were hemmed together. When he reached out, Ms. Foster was happily surprised and quite honored to learn that Kenn had spent a considerable amount of time compiling information about her father. After conversing over email for more than a year, Ms. Foster offered an invitation to sit down and talk over lunch at her home in O’ahu. Since Jennifer’s mom had a condo in Kauai, it was reasonably convenient to make the trip, so they packed their bags with their best aloha wear and headed for the islands.
It ended up being a lunch that Jennifer and Kenn will cherish for a lifetime.