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Hanae Mori

Kyodo

Unrivaled doyenne of the domestic fashion industry, Hanae Mori demands the kind of respect that even her universally lambasted multicolored capes for the Japanese Olympic team cannot detract from.

The only Asian designer to become a member of the governing body of French fashion, La Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisian, Mori has come a long way from her childhood in rural Shimane. Born in 1926, Mori was the only daughter in a family of five sons, and she acquired her taste for clothes from her fashion-conscious father. From the age of ten, she was sent to Tokyo to attend public school, and she remained in the capital through her college years at the Tokyo Christian Women' University, where she studied literature. During the war years she was forced to work in a factory and didn't resume her studies until peace was reached. She married the son of a wealthy textile manufacturer prior to graduation and began her new life as a housewife. After a few restless months of homemaking she returned to her studies—focusing on fashion for the next couple of years.

Her professional love affair with high fashion really took off in 1960 with a fateful encounter with Coco Chanel during a suit fitting while Mori was on vacation in Paris. Mori claims the meeting changed her life, and she decided to devote herself to her dream of designing haute couture with renewed vigor. Returning to Tokyo to her small office, where she had been producing movie costumes and private orders since 1951, she embarked on further design training. Ten years of designing over 700 costumes for directors such as Ozu, Oshima and Kurosawa had left Mori burned out and on the point of quitting, but invigorated by her chat with Chanel, she embarked with renewed enthusiasm. In 1965 she presented her highly acclaimed debut collection in New York and took in orders from a slew of high-class stores such as Neiman Marcus. In 1975 Mori made the move to France and showed her collection in the capital. Following its success she opened her Haute Couture Maison in 1977 and has been commuting between her Parisian atelier and Tokyo ever since.

Today Mori rules her $US4 billion a year empire from her Kenzo-Tange designed headquarters on Omotesando, while daughter-in-law Pamela Mori has taken control of the Hanae Mori Studio line. Wife of Mori's eldest son Akira, Pamela began with a cashmere knit line, which has now expanded to incorporate "ultra feminine, real clothes with comfort." In addition Pamela assists Mori with the proliferation of her pret-a-porter collection, haute couture boutiques, interior furnishings, accessories and bridal lines worldwide.

Now firmly enshrined as the queen of couture in Japan, Mori has the patronage of Princess Masako, who favors her refined suits and floral evening gowns for formal functions. Her trademark east-meets-west blend of Mao collars, kimono sleeves and Western couture techniques have graced the likes of both Nancy Reagan and Hillary Clinton, Princess Grace of Monaco and Sophie Marceau. But whether her multicolored capes will be sported by Japanese athletes at the Athens games remains to be seen. 

Matt Wilce

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