The Spirit of Aloha: Allison Sarofim Gives a Tour of Hawaii

In Hawaii, the mood is chill, the nature is sublime, and the people are as eclectic as the islands themselves.

by Paul Theroux

Photographer: Alasdair McLellan Stylist: Benjamin Bruno

The other day I found myself staring hard at a woman at Waimea Bay, on the North Shore of Oahu, near where I live. What was it about her that compelled my hot gaze? I smiled and mocked myself when I realized that it was because she was wearing a fluttery knee-length dress and expensive shoes: perhaps a TV producer, just here from the mainland, supervising her people filming—it was a day of 45-foot waves. She stood out not merely because she was pale and probably a malihini, a newcomer, but also because the other women around her, young and old, were half-naked, barefoot, and bosomy and buttocky in Brazilian thongs, gleaming and golden, heavily tattooed, and, therefore, inconspicuous. The woman in the fluttery dress was exceptional.

Dressing up is forgivable in Honolulu, but in other parts of the island it might be regarded as pretentious—in fact, people tend to dress down. Except at black-tie fundraisers and parties of celebrity bottom-sniffing, a place this warm does not allow you to be judged by your clothes, or shoes, where (on lawns and in most houses) people tend to be barefoot. It’s obvious that the Obamas spend part of every year here because island life is the opposite of Washington: low-key and informal. Elvis Presley loved Hawaii because it was laid-back, and Elvis is still remembered for being a benefactor (he helped fund the USS Arizona war memorial in Pearl Harbor). Locals always say what a relief it is to arrive home in the islands, from anywhere. “Lucky we live in Hawaii” is a mantra. I agree.

The sinuous film producer Allison Sarofim also agrees. A part-time Hawaii resident who keeps a low profile, Allison gives parties with great style in the ­Sarofim family home, once the seaside retreat of the American author, politician, and U.S. Ambassador Clare Boothe Luce. One of the more sought-after invitations in Honolulu is to the annual New Year’s party given by the Sarofim family, with Allison’s father, Fayez, the patriarch, presiding. The social unit of Hawaii is the ohana—the family—and Allison’s ohana consists of close friends who have become like family, and whom she graciously introduced to W: the big-wave surfer Garrett McNamara, the author Princess Dialta Alliata di Montereale, the ­lomilomi healer Kapono Souza, the ukulele player Taimane Gardner, and myself.

Is Hawaii sophisticated? I think these islands are too improvisational socially to claim any sustained refinement, though some people fuss to make attempts. A society that recognizes sophistication is one with a well-defined social structure, and worldliness, which fragmented and divided and philistine Hawaii does not have. Putting on airs or having an attitude is not the same as having sophistication or good taste. A designer bag or a set of labels is laughable in such circumstances. A person who uses big words is mocked here for being pompous—“Too hybolic, eh,” in the pidgin phrase. A writer, as I know from experience, is unclassifiable and probably hybolic too. Who cares? Many races live more or less harmoniously here, the murder rate is low, and we have the best weather on earth. At heart, Hawaii retains the oldfangled attitudes of its plantation history, with the predictable divisions and grievances. But the spirit of “aloha”­—an island agreement to be civil—is a unifying factor.

Who has status in Hawaii? Only the Hawaiian ali’i—the genuine nobles—and the old-timers, kamaaina, descendants of the missionary families. Pedigree matters more than money. Some of the old multigenerational Chinese and Japanese families have class, and a certain amount of philanthropy might get you noticed. Everyone else is here on sufferance, and is regarded as a wash-ashore. ** These are islands, after all, with limited elbow room.

The most important thing to know about Hawaii is that it is not one place but many, an archipelago sitting in the ocean, 2,300 miles from the nearest land mass. We have no neighbors and are subject to minimal influences. We are a cluster of high volcanic islands, some of them dramatic and uninhabited, many with towns or villages, a few heavily urbanized, some of them disfigured and tormented by developers.

Hawaii is not like other places—not even like other island groups. That is Hawaii’s boast, but there is more to know. I love it for its easygoing folks, the house I built in the middle of nowhere, its marine sunshine, its beaches, its informality, and its isolation. But isolation can create distortions—Hawaii’s remoteness has produced its own ways of behaving, oddities of culture, language, and food. Consider the floppy aloha shirt and its eye-blinding colors—but most people own one (or 20), and it is part of the informal dress code of Honolulu’s exclusive Outrigger Canoe Club. When the distinguished food writer Mark Bittman visited Honolulu not long ago, he appeared on a local TV show and was enthusiastically offered a local specialty, which he gazed at with alarm and nibbled with caution. It was a Spam musubi—a slice of precooked meat product on a rectangle of clammy white rice, the whole thing wrapped in a ribbon of green seaweed. He praised it—like a polite guest—but you could see his gorge rise. Pidgin English is another peculiarity of the islands, a linguistic gabble, also the result of isolation. The survival of native Hawaiian culture is practically a miracle, given its years of suppression by missionaries and its vulgarization by the tourist trade, but it has been assertive and now flourishes.

Hawaii had a monarchy, so plenty of people claim to have titles, but the real royalty are the princes and princesses of surfing and hula. A big-wave surfer is king of the beach, and a local idol; a brilliant hula dancer—woman or man—is admired by everyone, for being graceful and maintaining a link with the ancient past.

Rather than sophistication, Hawaii has style. And because Hawaii is possessed of outstanding natural beauty, it is simple, barefoot, short-sleeve, billowy-dress style, related to the outdoors. Hawaii makes the most of its superb climate, and many of the big-money weddings I’ve attended have taken place on a lawn or a beach; the family luau is a popular event, a baby luau (held when a child turns 1) is a significant milestone, and many concerts and festivals are held outside. The outdoor party is greatly valued for its freedom of movement.

After traveling the world, and being a resident for years in a number of countries, I came to Hawaii and fell in love—first with a woman, then with the place itself. Love with the woman has been consistent, but my love affair with Hawaii has had its ups and downs over the past 27 years, always reminding me of Marcel Proust’s dictum in Time Regained: “The only true paradise is a paradise we have lost.”

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In Hawaii, the Mood Is Chill and the People Are Eclectic

The model Natalie Westling wears a Carolina Herrera gown; hat from; Kenneth Jay Lane pearl necklaces; Ralph Lauren Collection belt; Cornelia James gloves; Marchesa bag.

Photographer: Alasdair McLellan Stylist: Benjamin Bruno

Westling wears a Balenciaga dress. The surfer Jarryd Magbee wears his own wetsuit. Beauty note: Keep your plumage bright with StriVectin Hair Color Care UV Protective Spray.

Photographer: Alasdair McLellan Stylist: Benjamin Bruno

Mikoh swimsuit; Vicki Turbeville earrings; (from top) Vicki Turbeville necklaces, necklace from Maida’s Belts & Buckles, Houston; necklace from Maida’s Belts & Buckles, Houston (worn as belt); (right wrist, from top) R.J. Graziano bracelet, Lisa Eisner Jewelry bracelet; bracelet from Maida’s Belts & Buckles, Houston, Vicki Turbeville bracelet; (right hand, from left) ring from Maida’s Belts & Buckles, Houston, Jacquie Aiche ring, ring from Maida’s Belts & Buckles, Houston, Vicki Turbeville ring; Vicki Turbeville necklace (worn on arm); (left wrist, from top) Alexis Bittar bangles, R.J. Graziano bangle, Kenneth Jay Lane bangle, Vicki Turbeville bracelet; (left hand, from top) Vicki Turbeville ring, ring from Maida’s Belts & Buckles, Houston, Vicki Turbeville ring. Beauty Note: For eyes like limpid pools, dip into Dolce & Gabbana Perfect Mono Cream Eye Color in Turquoise.

Photographer: Alasdair McLellan Stylist: Benjamin Bruno

Boss dress; hat from Pearlriver .com; Pebble London earrings; (right wrist, from top) R.J. Graziano bangles, Ben-Amun by Isaac Manevitz bangle; (left wrist) Elsa Peretti for Tiffany & Co. bangles; Ralph Lauren Collection belt; Giuseppe Zanotti Design shoes.

Photographer: Alasdair McLellan Stylist: Benjamin Bruno


The film producer Allison Sarofim is known in New York as the ultimate hostess, and is especially famous for the grand Halloween fete she throws annually. In Hawaii, where she has been spending part of the year for more than a decade, she keeps a far lower profile. “It’s where I recharge with my family,” she says. It was Sarofim, in fact, who suggested that W visit her in Honolulu to meet her group of laid-back friends and create the portfolio you see here. She even welcomed our team into her home—a stunning 1967 waterfront property designed by the renowned Hawaiian-modernist architect Vladimir Ossipoff, which Sarofims’s father, Fayez, purchased in 1999. (It originally belonged to Clare Boothe Luce, the writer of the 1939 film The Women and one of the first female American ambassadors.) Sarofim does more than relax on the islands, though. Next year she is launching Loulu Hawai’i, a luxury skincare line based on Hawaiian botanicals, created in partnership with local scientists. “We even developed our own microalgae,” she enthuses.

Interview by Armand Limnander

Allison Sarofim, in the entrance to and garden of her father’s home in Honolulu, wears a Céline dress and shoes; her own jewelry.

Allison Sarofim wears a Céline dress and shoes; her own jewelry. Professional skateboarder Heimana Reynolds wears a Prada shirt and hat.

Photographer: Alasdair McLellan Stylist: Benjamin Bruno

Competitive surfer Noa Ginella wears a MissoniHome towel. Westling wears a Missoni bikini, tank top, long-sleeve dress, dress (around waist), and pleated skirt; (bangles, right wrist, from top) Alexis Bittar, Alexis Bittar, R.J. Graziano, Ben-Amun by Isaac Manevitz, Alexis Bittar, Ben-Amun by Isaac Manevitz; (left wrist, from left) R.J. Graziano bangle, Alexis Bittar bangles; Jimmy Choo pumps.

Photographer: Alasdair McLellan Stylist: Benjamin Bruno


The languid ukulele player is as much of a Hawaiian cliché as the sensual hula dancer, but Taimane Gardner is anything but stereotypical. The daughter of a former Miss Samoa and an American businessman, she has been strumming since she was 5 and has performed in Thailand, Japan, Australia, Taiwan, and all over Europe, adapting everything from Beethoven to Led ­Zeppelin for the ukulele. (Taimane means “diamond” in Samoan, so it’s understandable that she goes by her first name only.) “I like to rip it superhard,” she says of her musical style. “I dance when I play, to somehow create visual music.” Perhaps that’s why she became fast friends with ­Sarofim, who has an eye for a true original. “Allison hired me to perform once, and the next thing I knew, she had invited me to her Halloween party in New York.”

Interview by Armand Limnander

Westling wears a Tory Burch bikini; Kenzo skirt; Céline earrings; Pebble London necklaces; Ben-Amun by Isaac Manevitz necklace (as belt); (right wrist) R.J. Graziano bangles; (left wrist) Ben-Amun by Isaac Manevitz bangles; (right ankle) Lost Art necklace; (left ankle) Heather Gardner necklace. Taimane Gardner wears an Emporio Armani dress; Gucci earrings; R.J. Graziano bangles; Lost Art necklace (on ankle). Beauty note: Fine-tune your appearance with Aveda Beautifying Radiance Polish.


The famed travel writer and novelist Paul Theroux spent seven years in ­Africa, lived in England, taught in Singapore, and has traveled extensively throughout Europe, Asia, and the Americas. He could’ve planted roots anywhere on the planet, but in 1992 he chose to purchase a sprawling mountain ranch on the North Shore of Oahu. “I needed space,” he says of his decision to steer clear of the beach and its constant influx of tourists and surfers. Theroux, who penned the introductory essay for this story, does most of his writing in a studio situated next to the main house; when he’s not working, he and his wife, Sheila, are busy with a boisterous flock of geese and a lively coop of chickens. “Occasionally, wild pigs wander onto the property, but they tend to die of lead poisoning,” he says wryly. “I shoot them and smoke them. They’re delicious for chili.”

Interview by Armand Limnander

Paul Theroux wears a Loewe shirt; his own shorts, hat, and sandals.

Ginella wears Calvin Klein White Label swim trunks; (from top) Maryam Montague necklace, Ben-Amun by Isaac Manevitz necklace. Westling wears a Chloé top; Zimmermann bikini; Lost Art necklace; (right hand) R.J. Graziano bangle; stylist’s own earrings and shell necklaces and bracelets. Beauty note: Don’t worship the sun without Sisley Tinted Sunscreen Cream SPF 30.

Photographer: Alasdair McLellan Stylist: Benjamin Bruno


Music is in Kapono Souza’s genes. His mother, Mihana Aluli Souza, is a highly regarded singer who’s put out several albums and often performs in Honolulu; his late grandmother “Auntie” Irmgard Keali’iwahinealohanohokahaopuamana Farden Aluli wrote more than 200 songs in her lifetime and is an inductee of the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame. It came as a surprise, therefore, when Souza discovered at an early age that he was incapable of carrying a tune. Still, his grandmother managed to pass something on. “Irmgard would lomi me when I was a child,” Souza recalls. “I was sickly, with asthma and breathing problems.” He is referring to lomilomi, a Hawaiian form of healing massage therapy that targets emotional and energetic sources of stress. “By the time I was 7, I could tell where people’s pain was; when I was a teenager, Irmgard taught me how to diagnose through feeling.” Eventually, Souza set up his own practice, working out of a studio in Honolulu. “Lomilomi has become my life’s work.”

Interview by Armand Limnander

Kapono Souza demonstrates lomilomi healing therapy. Westling wears an Anna Kosturova bikini; Fendi pants.

Photographer: Alasdair McLellan Stylist: Benjamin Bruno

Sitting below a portrait of Souza’s mother, Westling wears a Roberto Cavalli jacket; Valentino gown; Pebble London earrings; Kenneth Jay Lane necklaces; Elsa Peretti for Tiffany & Co. bangles; LaCrasia Gloves gloves; Ralph Lauren Collection belt; Jimmy Choo clutch and shoes. Beauty note: Get a Gauguin-esque gaze with MAC Fashion Pack Eye Shadow x 9 in Runway Worthy.

Photographer: Alasdair McLellan Stylist: Benjamin Bruno

Ginella wears a Boss suit and bow tie; Prada shirt. Westling wears a Balmain dress; Erickson Beamon earrings; Kenneth Jay Lane necklaces; Ralph Lauren Collection belt; Elsa Peretti for Tiffany & Co. bangles; Adrienne Landau boa; Marchesa clutch; Jimmy Choo shoes. The model Hunter Wyndham wears a Calvin Klein Collection tuxedo; Brioni shirt; Tom Ford bow tie; Church’s shoes. Beauty note: Glitter gets an endorsement thanks to Bobbi Brown Beach Nudes Sunkissed Pink Eye Palette.

Photographer: Alasdair McLellan Stylist: Benjamin Bruno


The granddaughter of the British writer and dilettante Sir Arthur Acton and his mistress, Elsie Beacci, Princess Dialta arrived in Hawaii from Rome via L.A. in 1999 with her husband, Prince Vittorio Alliata di Montereale, and their five children. At the time, Vittorio was battling cancer, and once he recovered, the family ended up staying. Over the years, Princess Dialta has made headlines for her long-standing court battle with New York University, which inherited the contested multimillion-dollar estate of her uncle Sir Harold Acton, including the famed Villa La Pietra in Florence and a very substantial art collection. (Her 2014 book, My Mother, My Father and His Wife Hortense, chronicles her colorful family history; a TV miniseries is in the works.) In 2009 she founded the ­EuroCinema Film Festival (now the Hawaii European Cinema film festival), but perhaps what she values most about island life is its simplicity. “Aloha is not about wanting things,” she says. “It’s about opening your arms to your destiny and nature, and being well in your own skin.”

Interview by Armand Limnander

Princess Dialta Alliata di Montereale wears an EGR by Enrique González top; her own jewelry. The actor Tevin Ulii wears his own necklace.


Garrett McNamara entered the Guinness World Records for riding a 78-foot wave in 2011, only to top that feat a couple of years later with a monster estimated at almost 100 feet. Then, last January, McNamara wiped out on a 50-footer, shattering his shoulder into nine pieces. He underwent two surgeries and has been at home with his wife, Nicole, and his sons Titus, 18, and Barrel, 1, recovering with a combination of physical therapy, a Filipino style of martial arts known as escrima, and lomilomi—not to mention the decidedly unappetizing shots of fermented noni, a malodorous fruit known for its curative properties, which he swigs several times a day. McNamara’s memoir, Hound of the Sea, will be out in August, but don’t take that as a sign of retirement. “I have a metal plate in my shoulder now,” he says. “The doctors think I could end up having even more strength than before.”

Garrett McNamara, with his sons Titus and Barrel, wears his own wetsuit.

Interview by Armand Limnander

Westling wears a Marni tunic; Juicy Couture Black Label shorts; J.J. Hat Center hat; Alexis Bittar bangles. Magbee wears a Loewe tunic; Quiksilver hat.

Photographer: Alasdair McLellan Stylist: Benjamin Bruno

Mugler dress; Ben-Amun by Isaac Manevitz earrings; (right hand, from left) R.J. Graziano bracelets; stylist’s own shell bracelets; (left hand, from top) Ben-Amun by Isaac Manevitz bangle, R.J. Graziano bangle, Elsa Peretti for Tiffany & Co. bangles; (on arm, from top) Heather Gardner necklace, Lost Art necklace; Ralph Lauren Collection belt.

Photographer: Alasdair McLellan Stylist: Benjamin Bruno

Louis Vuitton dress and boots; Worth & Worth by Orlando Palacios hat; Ben-Amun by Isaac Manevitz earrings; Cornelia James gloves. On the men, from left: Calvin Klein Collection trousers. Boss pants. Philip Treacy London hats (on both).

Photographer: Alasdair McLellan Stylist: Benjamin Bruno

MM6 Maison Margiela top; Tory Burch skirt; hat from; Pebble London earrings; Alexis Bittar bangles; Jimmy Choo shoes.

Hair by Shon for Redken at Julian Watson Agency; makeup by Frankie Boyd for Dior at Tim Howard Management; manicure by Mariah Melanie. Prop styling by Wendell Titcomb. Model: Natalie Westling at the Society Management.

models: Jarryd Magbee; Josie Esguerra; Wendell Titcomb; Tevin Ulii and Israel Romano at Kathy Muller Agency; Hunter Wyndham and Noa Ginella at Premier model management; Mahina Garcia and Heimana Reynolds at Niche Models & Talent. Produced by Photography Assistants: Lex Kembery, Matthew Healey, Ryan Foley. Videographer: Keith Kandell. Fashion Assistants: Taylor McNeill, Arianne Tunney. Hair Assistant: Ryan Alcantara. Makeup Assistant: Mariah Melanie. retouching: Output London. Special Thanks to Dillingham Ranch, Oahu’s north shore; Waimea Valley, Oahu’s north shore; The Kahala Hotel & Resort, Honolulu.