FashionRemembering Hanae Mori, the First Asian Designer Invited to...

Remembering Hanae Mori, the First Asian Designer Invited to the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture

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Hanae Mori, New York, 1987. Susan Wood/Getty Images

Born in 1926 in Mukaichi, Shimane Prefecture, Mori was the daughter of  stylish parents, a doctor (who hoped his daughter would follow him into the profession) and a homemaker. “We were the only ones in my hometown who dressed Western-style. It was embarrassing for me as a child to be different, but I guess we were rather envied, too,” she told the AP in 1996. In occupied Japan she read Gone With the Wind and at some point observed the wives of the Allies altering their Western clothes for fit. Post-war, Mori completed a degree in Japanese literature at Tokyo Women’s Christian University, then married the scion of a textile manufacturer, the “liberated (in her words) Kenzo Mori. “I was a very nice housewife for one month, but I did not like to be at home. I wanted to be working, so I ask my husband—he’s Japanese, very strong but very nice—and we discussed it for a month. Then I went to designing school in Tokyo.”

In 1951 she started working over a noodle shop with two assistants and three used sewing machines. About four years later her short-skirted designs were discovered in a shop window by a bunch of businessmen. The next day, one of them, a director, came back and asked her to create costumes, and for about five years Mori, as The Newsweek Service put it, “was the Edith Head of the Japanese film industry.” By 1960, Mori was a mother of two and thinking of walking away from it all, but she claimed that a fitting with Coco Chanel (Mori was the client), where they came to a compromise over the orange the Frenchwoman wanted her to wear, and the black that Mori preferred, put her back on course. “That meeting was fateful,” she’d later say. “I was back in the couture mood again and wanted to set up shop in Paris.”

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