The Reyn Spooner Story
From Catalina to the Hawaiian Islands
Noted Waikiki bartender Pat Dorian is unanimously credited for creating the first “reverse” printed fabric, inside-out shirt in the early 1960s. And it was Reyn McCullough, founder of Reyn’s Mens’ Wear, who most effectively marketed Dorian’s more kama‘aina shirt innovation and was the inspiration behind the Reyn Spooner® shirt.
Reyn was raised in the ‘30s on Catalina Island, California, the son of a baker. “He learned to play jazz saxophone at an early age and always displayed an artistic side with a smooth style,” remembered his son, Tim McCullough.
Reyn, who returned from Army paratrooper service after World War II, took a job with a chain of Southern California men’s stores. Eventually in 1949, he bought his employer’s shop in the resort community of Avalon on Catalina Island. In the last few years that he was active on Catalina, he had as many as six stores, among them Reyn’s Mens’ Wear and the Catalina Department Store. Along with distinctive resort clothing, his offerings included then-popular swimwear lines Jantzen, Catalina and California Swimwear as well as some Hawaiian-print shirts from the islands.
According to Tim, Reyn was able to carve out a niche of nautical-type apparel and sportswear that was unique for his clientele. “I can remember at Memorial Day, it was a big weekend when the big white steamer would return for the summer…and for the Fourth of July celebrations, Reyn would hire a Waikiki beach boy for a week or so, to sit in the front window of Reyn’s and weave palm frond hats. We’d get crowds of people standing around watching him weave, and Reyn would sell the hats for $1.50 apiece. So it was kind of an ’island invitation’ for people to come into the store and shop.” Reyn was a creative marketer, making the most of Catalina’s ample supply of palm trees, planted originally by Hollywood filmmakers for island adventure movies in the ‘30s and ‘40s.
Clarence Hara and his father-in-law, Isamu Takabuki, owners of the California-made label Pali Hawaiian Style, would catch the Catalina steamer to sell Reyn printed Hawaiian shirts. During sales presentations, the two salesmen, who were originally from Honolulu, recounted tales of Hawai‘i. These enticing stories and the frequent sight of big Douglas DC-7s overhead, flying to Hawai‘i, prompted Reyn to take a trip to the Islands in 1957. He and his wife Deane stayed in Honolulu for two weeks at the Reef Tower right on Waikiki Beach.
While in Hawai‘i, Reyn met Don Graham of The Dillingham Corporation, the developers of the soon-to-be Ala Moana Shopping Center. After returning to Catalina, a space in the new shopping center that had been reserved for noted Honolulu mens’ wear retailer Ross Sutherland became available and was offered to Reyn. In November 1959, Reyn opened his first Hawai‘i retail store within the Ala Moana Shopping Center.
“What my dad introduced to Hawai‘i was classic clothing – natural, Ivy League traditionalism,” said Tim McCullough. “Quite a bit more conservative than the resort look he had offered in Avalon. My dad felt the only way he’d have any success in Hawai‘i was to go after something other than the resort business, because everybody was already doing that here. Reyn introduced clothing for the aspiring entrepreneur / businessman who someday would be the boss--the guy who could be a little more updated in his style. Being a Jazz musician and enthusiast, Reyn had a real sense for the contemporary feeling he wanted his clothing to evoke. Essentially, he brought more “hipness” to Hawai‘i.”
The first two years he was open, Reyn would not allow printed apparel in his store, which meant no Aloha shirts. Tim McCullough remembered that his father never really embraced the Aloha shirt idea until Tom Anderson, his Ala Moana store Assistant Manager, brought him Pat Dorian’s original “reverse” print shirt.
“Reyn liked it,” Tim McCullough added. “But he envisioned an Ivy League styling to complement the Reyn’s look. This had never been done. Reyn said, ‘Why not make it like Gant’s ’Hugger’ body pullover sports shirt with a button-down collar?’”
The kind of shirt McCullough envisioned in 1961 was the classic Oxford cloth shirt, like those introduced by Brooks Brothers more than half a century before.
“Reyn could have just made patterns from the Gant shirts he carried in his store; however, being of high ethical standards he determined it would be best to approach the Gant Company first,” said Tim. On his next buying trip back to New Haven, Connecticut, Reyn worked with his supplier and long-time friends, well-known brothers within the industry, Elliot and Arthur Gant. He shared his idea of updating the Hawaiian shirt with a new Ivy League body style. Upon hearing of his concept, they allowed him to borrow their pattern for the Ivy League short-sleeve, pullover, button-down-collar, “Hugger” shirt. They were so enamored with Reyn’s idea that they introduced him to their French pattern maker on Fifth Avenue in New York City to obtain his own set of patterns. Returning to Hawai‘i, Reyn took the pattern to Ruth Spooner of Spooner’s of Waikiki where he was manufacturing swimwear, and Spooner began making the new-style Aloha shirt for Reyn’s. It was a more conservative, “traditional” pullover reverse shirt with a button-down-collar and tails to tuck into slacks.
“Reyn’s was now dressing Hawai‘i businessmen with an ingenious ’island’ dignity,” said Tim McCullough. “And it sold like hotcakes overnight, becoming the shirt of choice for Honolulu’s movers and shakers. Surfers loved it too, because it had that faded “authentic” look and a touch of Ivy League style.”
“The best, original reverse shirt was that Gant model that Reyn did,” agreed Nat Norfleet, Jr. of Kahala Sportswear. “Reyn had probably the best taste of any guy I knew at that young age. I loved Reyn’s taste. Excellent.”
“Reyn’s, in those days, bought their fabrics from Eastern US mills and Alfred Shaheen locally,” remembered Tim McCullough. “Shaheen had really mastered doing pigment printing so they’d get a good reverse penetration,” he said. “The two-to-five screen color floral prints were run on a really nice quality cotton broadcloth. What Shaheen was doing in his print plant, right in Honolulu, was really quite remarkable. Their designs were gorgeous as reverse prints.”
In 1962, after a year or so of design and manufacturing collaboration, Reyn McCullough bought out Spooner’s custom swimwear tailor shop on Uluniu Avenue. He moved the 400-square-foot shop, with its 4’ x 6’ cutting table and two sewing machines, into his Reyn’s 600-square-foot basement at the Ala Moana Shopping Center. “It was perhaps a questionable move,” Tim fondly remembered, “because the basement at Ala Moana wasn’t really intended for manufacturing. Reyn felt that the products already being produced by Spooner’s and sold at Reyn’s weren’t any different than tailoring the suits he sold in the store, and that the arrangement ’just naturally conformed’ with the new acquisition and relocation. That same year, Reyn went on to combine his first name with Ruth Spooner’s last name, and Reyn Spooner® was born.”
Since Reyn’s passing in 1984, his legacy of vision and innovation has been carried on by son Tim, who continues in the family business. “My goals are the same as my father’s. It isn’t about cheap, it’s about quality, and the customer will always be the boss!”
For two generations, Reyn’s has been proclaimed the “Brooks Brothers of the Pacific,” manufacturing carefully tailored, traditional button-down Ivy League Aloha Shirts. These classic shirts are proudly worn everyday of the week by Honolulu businessmen and professionals.
In October 2004, Reyn’s renovated their Ala Moana Center flagship store, with a fitting tribute to the Hawaiian Watermen of the ‘60s. The museum quality exhibit features black and white surfing and personal photos taken by a young Tim McCullough, that have been carefully placed around the entire store. Tim’s photos feature memorable shots of the extremely talented surfers of the celebrated era: Fred Hemmings, Conrad Canha, Jock Sutherland, Jimmy Lucas, and Kiki Spangler. Individual period surfboards and a sleek, balsawood racing paddleboard, accompany the photos within the tribute.
Hundreds of surfing’s dignitaries from this era were invited and gladly gathered for the remodeled store’s generously catered re-opening. Duke Boyd, originator of the Hang Ten Surf trunks; Joe Quigg, master shaper; Randy Rarrick, Executive Director of the Triple Crown; Charlie Walker, Big Wave Surfer and Paddleboard Champion; Ricky Grigg, Oceanographer and renown Surfer and Paddleboarder were among the many notable guests.
There is a growing global appreciation and fascination for the surfing lifestyle and the older handcrafted surfboards, making this tribute timely and interesting to surfers and landlubbers alike.
Reyn’s tradition of producing the finest “Made in Hawai‘i Aloha Shirts” proudly continues, and can be confirmed by faithful customers seen in and around the office buildings in downtown Honolulu, on the neighboring islands, on the mainland and at vacation resorts worldwide.
Written by Dale Hope