This month it’s time to say goodbye to another great name in Japanese fashion: Hanae Mori passed away at the age of 96 in Tokyo. The designer, nicknamed Madame Butterfly for her fetish motif, was the first Asian creator to enter the select Parisian couture. It was in 1977 that she presented her first Haute Couture collection, and she became the first Japanese member of the Chamber of Haute Couture Trade Unions. That year, her collection was an incredible array of dresses and other garments with her fusion of western style in silk and chiffon with motifs such as Japanese flowers, calligraphic strokes, and her signature butterfly. “Paris has its classics,” wrote Bernardine Morris, a columnist for the New York Times .. “Chanel, who established her style in the 1920s and hasn’t changed much since then, and Grès, who came a decade later. They have been joined by Hanae Mori, who could become a classic in time .” A few years earlier, in 1965, Mori had also been the first Japanese designer to walk in New York.
His creations were not exactly revolutionary. Unlike other contemporary compatriots of his, such as Issey Miyake (who died on August 5 ), Mori’s vision was not groundbreaking: as Japanism did in the s. XIX, his idea of fashion went through western garments with Japanese touches, a first stone that would pave the way for other Japanese designers. “When Kenzo, Kansai Yamamoto, and Issey Miyake were design students, they used to visit me frequently in my studio,” the designer confessed in an interview in 1982. Later, there would be the European debuts, in the 1980s, of Rei Kawakubo or Yohji Yamamoto, but he was already a third Japanese generation in Paris. Mori was one of the pioneers.
Those delicate pieces, designed for women who preferred to have a low profile, were made up of flowing designs, cocktail dresses with obi belts, or skirts printed with rose petals or clouds. Her client list moved between the royal and the political (especially First Ladies): she dressed Nancy Reagan, Hillary Clinton, or Lady Bird Johnson. She is also Grace of Monaco or Princess Masako of Japan. “The name of Hanae Mori has become in Japan synonymous with women’s clothing, like Toyota in cars or Nikon in cameras,” commented The Times in 1980 in a report on Tokyo after an exceptional year in which Mori reached one hundred million dollars in sales.
Hanae Mori was born on January 8, 1926, in Mukaichi, in southern Japan. She was the only girl of six children of a surgeon. “We were the only ones in my city who dressed in the Western style. As a child, I was ashamed to be different, but I guess they also envied us quite a bit,” she told the AP in 1996. A graduate of Japanese literature, she didn’t last more than a month as a housewife. , so he went to Tokyo to study design. In the early 1950s, she began working with two assistants and three sewing machines at a noodle shop. Her designs were discovered by a group of entrepreneurs, and she would become “the Edith Head of the Japanese film industry “, dressing hundreds of Japanese films from the 1950s and 1960s. Precisely in the 1960s, she had a revealing experience: visiting Coco Chanel‘s Parisian salon as a client, she left with an idea that would motivate her to try to venture into haute couture. The rest is already history. In the 1990s, it was one of the most lucrative businesses in Japan. She retired from it after presenting her latest Haute Couture collection, in the fall of 2004.