Hoffman California Fabrics

More is More

Hoffman California Fabrics

The 1950s were a wonderful time for Walter Hoffman. After spending five years living and surfing in Hawaii, he returned to California with new sensibilities and ideas that would launch his father’s company into a subculture that was about to explode.

Walter’s father, Rube P. Hoffman, founded Hoffman Woolens in 1924 after relocating his family from New York to Los Angeles. The company quickly evolved from wools and solid colors to a diverse range of fabrics and textile designs. As a result, the name was updated to Hoffman California Fabrics, which became an originator of tropical Hawaiian prints under Walter’s watchful eye. After taking the business over from his father, he still runs it today in his mid-80s.

Walter began surfing in its early days. “I was going to school in Hollywood and we’d go to the beach in Santa Monica,” he explains. “We drove up one day and there were a few guys surfing; that was the first time I saw it. I ran down and talked to them, and immediately bought a surfboard. I was 17.”

Later, as part of the military service, Walter was stationed in Pearl Harbor during the Korean War and remained in Honolulu afterwards. “We’d go to the North Shore and surf with maybe three guys. Not today, I lived at the right time,” he says with a laugh. Once Walter moved back to California and joined his father’s company, he brought his love for surfing, the ocean and botanical imagery — elements that have since become synonymous with the Hoffman brand.

As surfing took off, Walter knew that self-expression went hand-in-hand with it. He saw this as an opportunity to give surfers a fabric that made them feel heard, and seen. This new type of print — used on what North Americans lovingly refer to as Hawaiian shirts — would also appeal to both island locals and visitors, and would allow Walter to spend more time surfing his favorite Hawaiian breaks. “I started bringing prints into California from Japan at that time,” he mentions. “I’d go back to Hawaii and sell them. I still do.” Alongside his brother Philip, Walter helped oversee the expansion of tropical and hand-dyed fabrics as vibrant as the brothers themselves.

It’s these prints and this history that inspired Herschel Supply to build a partnership collection with Hoffman. Naturally, part of the process involved visiting their office in Mission Viejo, California, and meeting with Walter. He is still unapologetically himself — colorful, unexpected and totally breezy — with the rare persona combination of approachable surfer and reputable business man.

Hoffman Voyage Coach jacket.
Photo: Stephen Wilde
Hoffman Voyage Coach jacket. Photo: Stephen Wilde

After sifting through hundreds of yards of fabric in Hoffman’s extensive archives, Herschel Supply’s Design Director, Jon Warren, chose prints from the late 1980s. “They’re really bold and I think they capture the spirit of surfing and Hawaii,” he says.

The patterns themselves were originally created during a time when surf style was transitioning to a louder, more progressive period that took a break from palm trees and other traditional symbols. “You had the ocean filled with surfers and neon colors, and then you had the backdrop of Hawaii,” Jon continues. “I think we found that middle ground that captures the punk spirit of that time.” When you’re looking at the bags, there’s two patterns on each. There’s a bunch of outrageous colors — more is more. That actually created a really great product.”

These prints are unquestionably a fashion statement, a reputation, and when you’re truly into it — a way of life.

Written by EmmaRose Nelson

Archival images courtesy of Hoffman California Fabrics

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As seen in Issue 10 of The Journal by Herschel Supply.
Complimentary copies of the print edition are available at select global stockists.

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