Hanae Mori, Japanese couturier who melded east-west styles, dies at 96

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In 2002, Ms. Mori sold her ready-to-wear retail outlets and licensed apparel businesses to an investment group composed of Rothschild of Britain and Mitsui of Japan. Later that year, Hanae Mori International filed for bankruptcy protection in Japan, with liabilities of $94 million. The Hanae Mori name survived on a few Tokyo boutiques and still lingers today on her lines of fragrance.

Japan’s foremost female fashion designer was born Hanae Fujii on Jan. 8, 1926, in Muikaichi (now Yoshika), in Shimane Prefecture in southwestern Japan. She was the only daughter among the six children of a surgeon.

Hanae was 15 when the war in the Pacific began. Like many young Japanese women, she worked in a factory. When the war was over, she resumed studies at Tokyo Woman’s Christian University and graduated in 1947 with a bachelor’s degree in literature.

In 1947, she married Mr. Mori. They had two sons, Akira and Kei, who as adults helped run her businesses. Her husband died in 1996.

Eager for a career, she studied dressmaking and in 1951 opened her atelier in Shinjuku, a shopping hub in Tokyo. After a film producer spotted her work, she made costumes for hundreds of Japanese movies in the ’50s and ’60s, including Yasujiro Ozu’s “Early Autumn” and Yoshida’s “Farewell to the Summer Light.” Film stars became clients. She wrote columns for a fashion magazine and opened boutiques in Tokyo and other cities.

In 1960, she had a life-altering experience. Visiting Coco Chanel’s Paris salon, she emerged with an idea that inspired her to try haute couture. Conceiving that feminine beauty in Japan was based on a mystique of concealment, she resolved to make garments that revealed women’s natural femininity — a revolutionary notion in a culture that for centuries had rendered women all but invisible.

Putting her idea into practice, her business flourished in Japan. In 1975, she ventured into New York with rice-paper invitations for 300 American V.I.P.s of fashion, including critics, designers and department store reps, to her “East Meets West” show at a Park Avenue hotel. It was a huge hit.

“Works of art they definitely are,” Ms. Morris, the Times fashion critic, wrote. “Landscapes, butterflies, fans and flowers are beautifully colored on silk crepe and chiffon in the Japanese manner.

“But there are definite signs that Hanae Mori, the Japanese designer, is going Western,” she added. “The mingling of Western design and Japanese prints is a happy one.”

Neiman Marcus, the Dallas department store, was the first to market her wares in America. Bergdorf Goodman, Bonwit Teller, Henri Bendel and Saks Fifth Avenue soon joined the party. Two years later, she reached for greatness in Paris, settling on that street of fashion dreams: the Avenue Montaigne.

Ms. Mori designed the official uniform for the Japanese delegation to the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 and two years later the uniform for the Lillehammer Olympics.

Ms. Mori was showered with accolades and prizes, notably the Legion of Honor, France’s highest award, which was given to her in 1989 by President François Mitterrand. Her books included “Designing for Tomorrow” (1978), “A Glass Butterfly” (1984) and “Hanae Mori: 1960-1989” (1989).

After declaring bankruptcy, she continued to mount fashion shows until 2004, when she retired at age 78 and held a valedictory in Paris, calling it an homage to the East-West fusion that she had pioneered.

“A cascade of applause greeted Hanae Mori as the audience rose to its feet to salute the great Japanese couturier’s final Paris show,” The International Herald Tribune reported in 2004. “Visibly overwhelmed, the designer was surrounded by models wearing the finale dresses exquisitely embroidered with butterflies — the symbol of the house.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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