Hanae Mori

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Biography of Hanae Mori

Hanae Mori was born Hanae Fujii in Shimane, a prefecture in the southern part of Japan, in 1926. Immediately after graduating from the Tokyo Women's Christian University in 1947, she married Ken Mori, a textile executive. She was bored by fulfilling the role that was expected of most women in Japan at the time, which was being a wife and a mother to her two sons, Akira and Kei. Consequently, she enrolled in a dressmaking school to acquire the skills that led her to establish her first shop in 1951 in the center of Tokyo. A movie theater that showed the latest films from the West was located directly across the street from her shop. Movie director Sotojiro Kuromoto noticed the window display of her store one day, walked in, and asked Mori to design costumes for his films. As a result of this chance occurrence, her career was launched, and she became Japan's first internationally known designer.

Fashion to Display the New Japan

After the defeat in World War II, Mori wanted to introduce to the world the positive and beautiful aspects of the country and used fashion as the means to give Japan a new image. Mori's fashions are especially noteworthy for their use of vibrant color and lustrous textiles. She designed costumes for the opera Madame Butterfly at La Scala, in Milan in 1985; the ballet Cynderella for the Paris Opera in 1986; and the opera Electra at the Salzburg Music Festival in 1996, among many others. She also designs costumes for the traditional Japanese theater, Kabuki. She has also made a contribution to the area of uniforms, such as the Japanese Olympics team in 1994 and the flight attendants in 1970.

In 1977 Mori was admitted to the exclusive French fashion circle of la Chambre Syndicale de la haute couture parisienne, the first Asian couturiere to be so honored. Admission to the organization is the ultimate title that many prêt-à-porter designers aspire to achieve, though few realize their goals. In January 2003 the organization had only eleven members.

Japanese Culture in Western Fashion

Mori introduced Japanese high culture, with its luxury and great beauty, to the West. She featured Japanese cultural products-such as cherry blossoms, Mount Fuji, Kabuki, and Japanese calligraphy-and applied them to Western aesthetics. One of her most famous trademarks is the butterfly, and she is therefore known as Madame Butterfly. Unlike Kenzo or the other avant-garde Japanese designers who used unconventional styles and fabrics, Mori did not attempt to break the system of Western fashion or alter its concept of clothing. What she challenged was the stereotypical, inferior image of the Orient and Japanese women that was current in the 1960s.

Mori remains exclusive among all the Japanese designers in Japan and in France because of her status as a Couturiere, the title that no other Japanese designers had attained in the early twenty-first century. She has received many prestigious awards, including the Croix de chevalier des arts et lettres (1984) and chevalier of the Légion d'honneur (1989), both from the French government. In 1989 the Japanese government designated her a Person of Cultural Merit.

For Hanae Mori, a suit made by Coco Chanel was a source of inspiration: "I was fascinated by the impeccable tailoring often found in men's suits. But it also looked elegant…. That experience motivated me to continue as a designer" (Mori, pp. 72-76).

Dividing Mori Fashion Lines

Mori's enterprise was privately owned and managed by her husband, Ken, until his death in 1996, and later by her elder son, Akira. However, as the structure of the haute couture system began to change, the company was forced to go through an organizational transition. In 2001 the company announced that Mori's prêt-à-porter and licensing divisions had been sold to a British investment group, Rothschild, and a major Japanese trading company, Mitsui. Her haute couture division was sold in 2002. While Mori now designs only for her haute couture collection, which is shown biannually in Paris, her family members have completely withdrawn from her business.

See also Costume Designer; Japanese Fashion; Japanese Textiles.


Brabec, Dominique. "Hanae Mori." L'Express 10 (January 1977): 7

Menkes, Suzy. "Hanae Mori: The Iron Butterly." Hanae Mori Style. Edited by Yasuko Suita. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 2001.

Hanae Mori. Fasshon: Chou wa Kokkyou wo Koeru (Fashion: A butterfly crosses the border). Tokyo: Iwanami Shinsho, 1993; reprint, 2000.

Mori Hanae to Pari: Pari Oto Kuchuru Nijunen Tenran Kai (Hanae Mori and Paris: Twenty years of Paris haute couture). Tokyo: Ginza Matsuya, 1998.

Suita, Yasuko, ed. Hanae Mori Style. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 2001.

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