Art/Style/Travel DiariesStyle

My face time with Hanae Mori: ‘Women today are not so easily dictated upon’

On a memorable visit in 1982, Japan’s fashion icon voices out ideas that resonate to this day

Hanae Mori in Manila in 1982 during the interview with the author: 'We don’t have time to wear all those fantasy and theatrical clothes' (From T. Sioson photo files)

On either her first or second visit to the Philippines, during my interview with Hanae Mori at Manila Hotel, she asked me a question unexpectedly. She was curious about the white long-sleeved blouse I was wearing and through her English interpreter, wanted to know who designed it. Quite proudly, I said that it was by a Filipino ready-to-wear designer Jeannie Goulbourn, under the label JMGoulbourn for SM—using the cutout embroidery technique. In that unintended way did Japan’s fashion icon get a glimpse of Philippine fashion design of the ‘80s.

Hanae Mori, the pioneer Japanese designer who stood alongside the world’s fashion greats Chanel, Givenchy, Dior, died August 11, 2022 at 96 years old. Hers was a lifetime of milestones achieved by a woman in an Asian culture not traditionally dominated by women—she was ahead of her era, in both fashion design and mindset. In 1977, she was the first Asian to have been accepted into the exclusive Paris organization of haute couture, the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, thus paving the way for her Japanese compatriots and other Asian designers. Her collections—noted for the image of a butterfly— had a strong following in Japan and in major cities of the world for over four decades. In 1988, she received the Japan Medal with Purple Ribbon. In 2002 she was awarded the Legion of Honor by France. In 2004, she staged her last couture collection in Paris.

Below is my interview story on her published in the now defunct Times Journal in 1982, and is included in my book, ‘i’m afraid of heights,’ published in 2012.

1982

Women are not as excited over the return of the mini as fashion editors are.

Famous fashion designer Hanae Mori, who was in Manila last week to present her 1982 Spring-Summer collection, said in our exclusive interview that while the fashion press the world over is making great fuss over the comeback of the mini, women seem not so eager to raise their hemlines drastically.

“Women today are not so easily dictated upon,” says the Japanese designer, the first Asian to open an haute couture atelier in Paris. “They are more practical than ever, especially with day dresses.”

‘We don’t have time to wear all those fantasy and theatrical clothes’

Known for her beautiful prints (the iconic butterfly image) and for her expertise in combining the sensible style of dressing with what is chic and trendy, Ms. Mori adds, “We don’t have time to wear all those fantasy and theatrical clothes.”

She is referring to recent collections, which have been inspired by costumes, folklore and fantasy design: “That’s why female designers are very important,” she says. “We’re not as romantic about fashion as male designers. We know how women lead their everyday lives.”

According to Ms. Mori, the fashion of the ‘80s can’t help but recognize one thing: “A woman’s life is changing. She’s given as much responsibility as the man. In this context, a woman, no matter how rich she is, can’t spare the time just to don impractical costumes. More and more she wants simpler, easy-to-wear clothes.”

It is this sense of what’s practical, mixed with foresight and business acumen, which has made Ms. Mori the fashion mogul of Asia. She owns what is estimated to be an $300-million fashion empire with centers in Paris, Tokyo, New York. She was the first Asian to be accepted into the Haute Couture Association of Paris, a prestigious body open only to select number of designers in the highly competitive fashion capital.

She makes 12 collections a year shown across the continent and recently she reintroduced fashion in China—the only foreign designer apart from France’s Pierre Cardin, to do so. In China, she trains the people in clothes production and manufactures clothes for export.

Her 80-piece collection shown at Manila Hotel last February 25 and 26, demonstrated Ms. Mori’s beliefs. Her clothes—from day dresses to evening wear—were all wearable. They combined the Western cut and trends with a strong Japanese influence.

White Flower Dress and Big Flower Bustier Dress by Hanae Mori (From Hanae Mori website)

The collection’s first part showed the models in skirts and pants of varied lengths and kimono-inspired jackets in Japanese woodblock prints. The models, imitating the Japanese women’s demure manner of walking and graceful movements, wore Japanese sandals and socks in tomato red. Her colors for day were bright red, orange, blue and yellow. For evening dressing, black was predominant. Outstanding was her women’s tuxedo—slacks worn with smoking jackets that had biased peplum as tails.

Prevalent were designs of butterfly, flowers, which are the Japanese’s symbols for femininity and which have become Ms. Mori’s trademark, and Japanese natural scenery.

Hanae Mori with model and granddaughter Izumi Mori, Haute Couture fall winter 2004-2005 show in Paris, France.

Ms. Mori was a literature major at Tokyo Christian University. Her father, a surgeon, did not encourage her artistic interests. It was only when she married businessman Ken Mori that she gained freedom, she says. Her husband now helps her run the fashion firm.

“I’ve always been a strong-willed woman,” she explains how she was able to build a career at a time when Japanese women were discouraged from working outside the home.

While pregnant with her eldest, she studied fashion design in Tokyo. Shortly after she opened a small boutique, a Japanese movie producer took notice of her clothes and her career in movie costume designing began. She designed costumes for hundreds of Japanese movies.

Determined to get into the fashion mainstream, she went to New York to open a boutique. After 10 years in that city, she set her eyes on Paris.

“In New York, fashion is business. People are after the new look, not necessarily the good quality. In Paris, fashion is art,” she explains.

Breaking into the city’s fashion industry wasn’t hard, she says. “They needed new blood,” she explains how her being a Japanese helped.

Ms. Mori impressed one as unassuming, soft-spoken and simple. Her frizzy hair held back, she wore no makeup, except for lipstick. Perennially smiling, she seemed like a typical housewife who had been sheltered at home all her life.

Such an image, however, belies the vast power she wields in the fashion industry. Her empire includes a textile factory in Japan, branches in Australia, Germany, Hong Kong and licensees in 30 cities the world over. In Japan, her firm has a publishing arm which owns two newspapers and two magazines managed by her two sons. She designs not only clothes and knitwear but also bath towels, stockings and socks.

First published in Times Journal, 1982. Included in the author’s book, ‘i’m afraid of heights’ published in 2012.

About author

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After devoting more than 30 years to daily newspaper editing (as Lifestyle editor) and a decade to magazine publishing (as editorial director and general manager), she now wants to focus on writing—she hopes.

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