Hanae Mori has been a simultaneous fashion translator in her five decades as a designer: transforming traditional Japanese fabrics into unscary garments for Westerners, and making the cut, fit, shape and ways of wearing Western. understandable for Japanese women. She was particularly skilled, being from the only family in her town who had dressed in Western clothing at the time and the only girl in a skirt and blouse from her kimono school.
Mori, who died at the age of 96, never intended to be a designer; the tailoring course she took in post-war Tokyo in her early twenties was only meant to equip her to make clothes for herself and her future children. But she was engrossed in Western technical details – irregularly shaped pieces, many with curved outlines, darts, gathers and drapes, all sewn together to tightly wrap a body where a simple Japanese tubular construction enveloped.
She opened a small workshop above a noodle bar in Shinjuku, Tokyo, in 1951. The area had been wiped out during World War II except for its station, around which, during the American occupation , a vast black market and entertainment economy has developed. for Americans and Japanese. Mori, along with a few assistants and three second-hand sewing machines, created bespoke and made-to-order fashionable Western women’s clothing for both cultures.
The area had a large new cinema attracting film industry professionals; she was first asked by a producer to supply clothes, then to design costumes for films – she worked on hundreds over a decade – and she also styled movie stars’ own wardrobes. At the same time, under the direction of her husband Kenzo Mori, an executive from a family of textile manufacturers, she developed with the national economy from makeshift workshops to boutiques.
Mori quickly came to represent fashion in Japan, showcasing the latest trends in a newsletter that turned into a magazine, Ryuko Tsushin. She advised women on their difficult transition to Western wardrobes, which made them uncomfortable by exposing more than their neck and hands, mystified by extraterrestrial accessories and unable to kneel on the dull floor of a house without a chair.
She prospered so well that she took an unusual approach to studying French couture; in 1960, she traveled to Paris to meet and order outfits from designers she respected, including Hubert de Givenchy and Coco Chanel – who shocked Mori by advising her to wear orange for an entrance. Japanese women were not expected to stand out: subtlety, reticence, what Mori called “refined dissimulation”, were their ideals.
Upon her return to Japan, her coloring brightened, and she synthesized a bolder fusion mode, western in cut, oriental in fabric and pattern, suggesting “the atmosphere of a kimono” without its restrictions.
Mori’s first international couture-level show, East Meets West, in New York City in 1965, was perfectly timed to appeal to the jet-set era’s taste for wearing flowing silk to and from exotic destinations; she did the sparkles, was stocked by high-end department stores, and began to accumulate a list of clients that later included Bianca Jagger, Lady Bird Johnson, Nancy Reagan, Hillary Clinton, and Princess Grace of Monaco. Mori also dressed Masako Owada for her 1993 wedding to Crown Prince Naruhito.
She also learned a lot in the United States about quality ready-to-wear, a new concept in Japan and licensing; through these, she established her butterfly name and logo in Japan and around the world.
Unlike most couturiers, she was already financially well off and intercontinental famous when she opened her salon in Paris in 1977 and was appointed to the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne.
Mori attributed his independence and curiosity to his father, Tokuzo Fujii, a progressive surgeon in Muikaichi (now Yoshika), Shimane, in southwestern Japan; he, his daughter, and four sons all wore Western clothes, made from imported textiles brought back from visits to big cities, while Hanae’s mother, Nobu (née Matsuura), wore beautiful kimonos catalog-ordered in the department stores; both of his parents were from wealthy families.
Nobu moved to Tokyo so children could be educated there; during the war, the entire family except Hanae was evacuated; she had been conscripted into a factory and remained defiantly in the city during its destruction. Like other women during the war, she adopted peasant working clothes – loose wrap-around jackets over soft tie-waist trousers; Mori knew this was when Western dress became their future.
She married in 1947 after earning a degree in Japanese literature from Tokyo Women’s Christian University the same year. “I was a very nice housewife for a month, but I didn’t like being at home,” she said, and started the course in designing and making clothes.
Her husband supported her work and was for decades her public front in an all-male business world of contacts and contracts. It wasn’t until 1986 that Mori was invited to become the first female member of the Japan Association of Business Executives. By then, she was earning several million dollars, showing couture in Tokyo, New York and Paris, and fully developed into cosmetics, perfumes, home furnishings – the whole range of brands.
A shift in the east-west balance that had established its success also determined its fate. Young designers such as Kenzo, Issey Miyake and Rei Kawakubo, whom Mori had encouraged, created a new vision of Japanese design in the West, sharper and less graceful than Mori, when Japan was fully integrated into world fashion and also likely to wear Ralph Lauren. denims, woven in Japan, like a Mori chiffon dress.
She sold her stores and licensed businesses to an investment group in 2002 and, with debts of 10 billion yen, filed for bankruptcy for the rest of her empire, showing a final Parisian collection in 2004 and taking her retirement. But her image in Japan shines constantly, from fashion pioneer to Empress Dowager. She was made a Knight of the Legion of Honor in 1989, and in 1996 received the Order of Culture of Japan.
Kenzo died in 1996. He is survived by their two sons, Akira and Kei, who worked in Mori’s businesses.