Hana Mori, the Japanese fashion designer who emerged from the ruins of World War II and built a $500 million fashion house that was popular with East and West styles and a symbol of Japan’s post-war rise, died August 11 at her home in Tokyo. She was 96 years old.
Her office confirmed the death on Thursday, without specifying a cause. She said she got sick two days before her death.
From a tailoring shop serving the wives of American soldiers in a bombed-out area of Tokyo, Hanae Mori (pronounced HA-na-eh MO-ree), the daughter of a surgeon, rose to world fame in the year 50’s—the year of work that brought in a fabulous fortune. ; 20 luxury home companies in Paris, New York and Tokyo; And a great position for woman in male domination profession and society.
After decades of struggling to improve and commercialize her methods, she was accepted in 1977 to the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, the first Asian woman to join the Guild of the World’s Leading Designers in Paris. She was also the first Asian woman to join the ranks of Christian Dior, Chanel, Givenchy, Armani, Versace, Valentino and Karl Lagerfeld at the Paris shows, where competition and stakes were as high as fashion.
Her collection that year was a stunning collection of gowns and other clothing with its distinct mix of Western-style designs in silk and chiffon, Japanese floral prints, seascapes, calligraphy and its signature butterflies. New York Times fashion critic Bernadine Morris declared that the industry has a new star in the making.
“Paris still has its classics,” Mrs. Morris wrote in 1977“Chanel, who established her style in the 1920s and hasn’t changed much since then, and Grace, who came a decade later. This time they are joined by Hani Morey, who may in time become a classic.”
She was right. In the following years, haute couture Mrs. Morey charmed the runways of Paris and New York, and was lauded by the fashion press. In turn, when it became well known and its exported ready-to-wear became widely available, it gained the loyalty of millions of buyers around the world.
Her designs were actually quite conservative. Unlike its Japanese contemporaries Issey MiyakeMs. Morey, who died August 5, and other avant-garde fashion designers who used unconventional patterns and fabrics, Ms. Morey made no attempt to break the molds of Western fashion. Instead, by combining Western designs with Japanese touches, it challenged stereotypes and influenced a generation of designers in both cultures.
Her creations weren’t for women who wanted to get in, the Vogue editor said. For the majority of women who did not seek the spotlight, it was only the quiet pleasures of dressing in subtle colors and patterns: silk cocktail dresses with obi, Chiffon dresses float with orange-purple mists and skirts and dresses printed with rose petals, reeds or soft clouds.
With her textile executive husband, Ken Morey, as her business manager, Ms. Morey has developed lines of evening dresses, daywear, work wear, men’s and children’s wear, as well as collections of shoes, handbags, gloves and scarves. Later it produced lacquerware, perfumes for women and men, and even home furnishings.
As Japan recovered from the devastation of wartime bombing and regained its economic standing with a rush of abundance, women once joined kitchens and restricted themselves to wearing traditional kimonos to the workforce in droves, buying Mrs. Mori’s jackets, pants, cardigans and sweaters . skirts; Many also learned new ways to wear evening wear, weddings and other formal occasions, with Morey’s creations.
As Mrs. Mori’s non-traditional collections expanded into global markets, her private client list grew to include Princess Grace of Monaco, Crown Princess Masako of Japan, Lady Bird Johnson, Nancy Reagan, Hillary Clinton, Sophia Loren and Renata Tibaldi, as well as the wives of national leaders in Europe and Asia and community figures in New York, Paris, London and Tokyo.
“The name Hanae Mori has become synonymous with Japan in women’s clothing, like Toyota in cars, Sony in tape recorders and Nikon in cameras,” The Times reported from Tokyo in 1980 after Mori’s banner had global sales of $100 million.
With fame came contracts. Having designed costumes for Japanese films and uniforms for flight attendants for Japan Airlines, she created costumes for the opera Madama Butterfly at La Scala in Milan in 1985; Rudolf Nureyev’s Paris Opera Ballet “Cinderella” in 1986 (and produced in New York in 1987); And the opera “Elektra” at the Salzburg Music Festival in 1996.
By the 1990s, Ms. Mori was one of Japan’s most powerful business executives and the elites of Tokyo society. She was collecting charitable donations with ambassadors, entertainment stars, and corporate leaders whose wives had at least one Morey creation in their wardrobes: day suits that sold for $9,000 and evening dresses that sold for $26,000.
Mrs. Mori’s international headquarters, the Hanae Mori Building, was a glass and steel landmark in central Tokyo. She owned a nearby French restaurant, and mansions in New York and Paris, where she held dinner parties for up to 250 guests. Her home in Tokyo was a five-story modern residence. Like her office building, it was designed by Japanese architect Kenzo Tange.
Ms. Mori traveled the world on her private jet, dined with royals and CEOs, and was often as famous as the dress-up stars and appeared frequently in the news in Japan. Small and slender, with a heart-shaped smile, large round glasses and a soft voice, she was often interviewed by Western correspondents, who said she radiated a calm confidence and innate kindness.
“For all her success, Mori is a friendly, low-key, gracious, and self-restrained woman–a manner that resulted from a conservative upbringing, crucial to her success in Japan,” The Washington Post said in a 1990 dossier. “In Tokyo’s male-dominated business culture, the strictest woman in leadership would have been ostracized.”
Although no one knew it at the time, Ms. Morey’s annual global sales peaked at nearly $500 million. In the mid-1990s, its sales began to decline steadily, due to the prolonged economic stagnation and changing tastes that forced many haute couture designers, including Ms. Morey, to step back from spending.
In 2002, Mrs. Morey sold the ready-to-wear retail outlets and licensed apparel business to an investment group made up of British Rothschilds and Japan’s Mitsui. Later that year, Hanae Mori International filed for bankruptcy protection in Japan, with liabilities of $94 million. The Hanae Mori name has survived in a few Tokyo stores and is still present today on their perfume lines.
The first Japanese fashion designer, Hana Fujii, was born on January 8, 1926, in Moikaichi (now Yoshika), in Shimane Prefecture in southwestern Japan. She was the only daughter of Jarrah’s six children.
Hana was fifteen when the war in the Pacific began. Like many young Japanese women, she worked in a factory. When the war ended, she resumed her studies at Tokyo Women’s Christian University and graduated in 1947 with a bachelor’s degree in literature.
In 1947, she married Mr. Morey. They had two sons, Akira and Kei, who helped run her business as adults. Her husband died in 1996. Among her survivors are sons and eight grandchildren, two of whom, Hikari Mori and Izumi Mori, are famous models.
Keen on a career, Mrs. Mori studied sewing and in 1951 opened her atelier in Shinjuku, a shopping mall in Tokyo. After a film producer spotted her work, she made costumes for hundreds of Japanese films in the 1950s and 1960s, including “Early Autumn” by Yasujiro Ozu and Yoshishiji Yoshida’s “Farewell to Summer Light.”
Movie stars became clients. She wrote columns for a fashion magazine and opened stores in Tokyo and other cities.
In 1960, she had an experience that changed her life. While visiting the Coco Chanel salon in Paris, she came up with an idea that inspired her to try haute couture. Perceiving that female beauty in Japan was based on the mystery of concealment, she decided to create clothes that revealed a woman’s natural femininity – a revolutionary idea in a culture that for centuries made women invisible.
After implementing her idea, her business flourished in Japan. In 1975, she ventured into New York with rice-paper invitations of 300 American fashion dignitaries, including critics, designers, and department store representatives, to her show “East Meets West” at a Park Avenue hotel. It was a huge success.
“Works of art are definitely” Ms. Morris, fashion critic for The Times, wrote. “Landscapes, butterflies, fans and flowers are beautifully colored on Japanese style crepe silk and chiffon.
“But there are definite signs that Japanese designer Hana Mori is heading west,” she added. “The combination of Western design and Japanese prints is a happy thing.”
Neiman Marcus, a Dallas department store, was the first to market Mrs. Morey’s merchandise in America. Soon, Bergdorf Goodman, Benoit Teller, Henry Bendel and Saks Fifth Avenue joined the party. Two years later, she reached greatness in Paris, settling down on this street of fashion dreams, Avenue Montaigne.
Ms. Mori designed the uniforms for the Japanese delegation to the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, and two years later, the uniforms for the Lillehammer Olympics.
Ms. Morey has received honors and awards, notably the Legion of Honor, France’s highest award, which was bestowed on her in 1989 by President François Mitterrand. Her books include “Design for Tomorrow” (1978), “Glass Butterfly” (1984) and “Hannah Morey: 1960-1989” (1989).
After declaring bankruptcy, she continued to stage fashion shows until 2004, when she retired at the age of 78 and held a farewell party in Paris, calling it a tribute to the fusion of East and West that she pioneered.
“A series of applause greeted Hana Mori as the audience rose to her feet to greet the last show of the great Japanese fashion designer in Paris,” International Herald Tribune. reported in 2004. “The designer seems to have been so overwhelmed with his mind, he was surrounded by models wearing finished dresses exquisitely embroidered with butterflies – the symbol of the house.”
Hikari Hida Reporting contributed from Tokyo.
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