Hanae Mori, pioneering Japanese fashion designer, dies aged 96
Oscar Holland, CNN | Junko Ogura, CNN
Hanae Mori, the first Asian fashion designer to enter the exclusive world of high fashiondied at the age of 96.
The Japanese designer, whose elegant designs were worn by high-profile figures from Hillary Clinton to Empress Masako, died last Thursday, her office told CNN via email. No cause of death was given in the company’s statement, which adds that a funeral service has already been held with next of kin.
Born in Shimane Prefecture, Japan in 1926, Mori opened her first studio in Tokyo, Hiyoshiya, in 1951, and another three years later. Much of his early career was spent making costumes for the film industry at a time now considered the golden age of Japanese cinema.
But his ambitions were global, even at a time when Asian designer names were barely registered in Western fashion capitals. His visits to New York and Paris in the 1960s proved formative, as did an encounter with Coco Channel during which the French designer offered him to try on a particularly bright orange suit.
“It helped move the scales from my eyes,” Mori recalled years later, according to a Profile 1990 in the Washington Post, adding, “The whole Japanese concept of beauty is based on concealment…I suddenly realized that I had to change my approach and make my dresses help a woman stand out.
She did just that, often mixing Western silhouettes with Asian-style designs, like the butterflies that would later see her nicknamed “Madame Butterfly.” Mori held her first overseas show, themed “East Meets West”, in New York in 1965. And from there, she began to pave the way for successful Japanese designers, such as Rei Kawakubo , would follow for decades.
Along with her husband and business partner, Ken, she grew her label in tandem with Japan’s booming economy. She opened a showroom on Seventh Avenue in New York in 1973 and, four years later, a workshop on the prestigious Avenue Montaigne in Paris, where she counted many European fashion giants as neighbors. She also became the first Asian designer to be accepted into the prestigious Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne, making her one of the few people allowed to use the term “haute couture” to describe her handcrafted garments.
Over the years, her designs have been seen on the big runways and worn by stars from Grace Kelly to Princess Grace of Monaco. She has also done costumes for major stage productions, including “Cinderella” at the Paris Opera and, fittingly, “Madame Butterfly” at La Scala in Milan.
Despite his international reputation, Mori also continued to accept prestigious commissions in his home country. She designed a succession of flight attendant uniforms for Japan Airlines, the most notable of which – a daringly short polyester mesh dress – was worn for much of the 1970s.
Mori also dressed Japanese athletes for the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. The following year, the Empress of Japan – then Crown Princess – Masako wore a custom white dress by Mori to her wedding.
Despite starting a successful perfume business, Mori’s business faced major financial difficulties in the 1990s. New York Times. She closed her Paris home two years later, effectively retiring. But she remained active in her later years, designing costumes for operas and collaborating on various exhibitions honoring her decades-long career.
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