Hanae Mori: How a life of war led to world-renowned fashion


Hanae Mori was a fashion designer who specialized in translating traditional Japanese designs into Western styles. She was uniquely qualified for this task, coming from a family that was the only one in her town to dress in Western clothing at the time and being the only girl in her school to wear a skirt and blouse instead of a kimono. Mori never intended to be a designer; she only took a dressmaking course in postwar Tokyo in her early twenties as a way to make ends meet. However, she quickly rose to prominence in the fashion world and became one of Japan’s most well-known designers. She will be remembered as a trailblazer in the fashion industry and as a pioneer of East-West fashion fusion.

Despite her initial intentions to focus on creating garments for herself and her future children, she found herself more interested in the western approach to clothing construction. This involved creating pieces with irregular shapes, darts, gathers, and drapes; all of which came together to provide a closer fit than the simple tube construction used in Japanese garments.

In , she started a small atelier above a noodle bar in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo. This area had been completely destroyed during the second world war, except for the railway station. During the US occupation, a black market and entertainment economy developed around the station, catering to both Americans and Japanese people.

Hand sewing machines were created on-spec and made-to-order fashionable western women’s clothes for both cultures. The area had a big new cinema attracting film industry professionals; first a producer asked her to supply clothing items, 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, with her husband, Kenzo Mori – an executive from a textile manufacturing family – acting as manager, she expanded along with the national economy from makeshift workshop to boutiques.

Introducing the latest trends in a newsletter that developed into a magazine, Ryuko Tsushin. She advised women on their difficult transition to western wardrobes, which made them uncomfortable by exposing more than necks and hands, mystified by alien accessories and unable to kneel on the matted floor of a chairless home. She prospered so much that she took an unusual approach to studying French couture; in , she travelled to Paris to meet and order outfits from designers she respected, including Hubert de Givenchy and Coco Chanel – who shocked Mori by advising her that she should wear orange.

While Japan has always been known for its traditional values, in recent years there has been a shift towards a more modern aesthetic. This is evident in the fashion industry, where designers are increasingly embrace Western influences in their designs. One such designer is Rei Kawakubo, who is known for her unique fusion of Eastern and Western styles. Kawakubo’s garments are often intended to evoke the atmosphere of a kimono without being restricted by its traditional cut and silhouette. In , she debuted her first couture-level collection, entitled “East Meets West,” in New York City. This collection was perfectly timed to appeal to the jet-set era’s taste for exotic, cultured fashion.

Mori also dressed Masako Owada for her marriage to Crown Prince Naruhito. She also learned much in the US about quality ready-to-wear, a new concept in Japan, and licensing; through these she established her name and butterfly logo in Japan and around the world. Unlike most couturiers, she was already financially secure and intercontinentally famous when she opened her salon in Paris in , and was appointed to the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne.

Learninng Outcome

In conclusion, Rei Kawakubo’s “East Meets West” collection is representative of a broader trend in the fashion industry towards a more modern aesthetic. This trend is evident in the increasing embrace of Western influences by designers, as well as in the overall shift towards a more modern aesthetic.


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