Tokyo (AFP) – Hanai Mori, the Japanese designer who rocked the Paris haute couture world and was nicknamed “Madame Butterfly” for her signature designs, has died in Tokyo at the age of 96, her office told AFP.
Over the past decade, Mori’s luxurious creations have been worn by Nancy Reagan, Grace Kelly and countless members of high society.
But she was a pioneer for Japanese women. She is one of the very few to lead a global corporation.
A worker in Morey’s office said Thursday that she died Aug. 11 of “old age” at the home and had a private funeral.
The designer’s impressive career took her from Tokyo, where she began making costumes for cinema, to New York and Paris – and in 1977 her label became the first Asian fashion house to join the rarefied ranks of haute couture.
The exclusive French club sets the standard for hand-made, ultra-precious clothing.
“When people work with their hands, their creativity expands,” Mori told AFP back in Tokyo in 2006, when a robot produced a replica of the classic “Crysanthemum Pajamas” – a kimono-like pattern made of rose-pink chiffon and silk.
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In January, the designer summed up her feelings for the industry to Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun daily.
“Fashion is something that pushes you, gives you the courage to spread your wings, and makes you want to be adventurous,” she told me.
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In the year Born in a rural corner of western Japan in 1926, Mori studied literature at Tokyo Women’s Christian University before turning her hand to design.
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She opened her first atelier above a noodle shop in Tokyo and came to specialize in dressing silver screen stars.
As Japan’s post-war economy boomed, the business she ran with her husband—a textile executive whose arrival in television encouraged her to visit Paris and New York—made the film industry less lucrative.
“It was a turning point for me,” she once said of her travels in the early 1960s, during which she met Coco Chanel in Paris.
It turned out to be an inspiring experience.
When she entered the Chanel studio, the famous designer suggested that she wear something orange to contrast with her black hair.
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Mori thought in surprise.
“The whole Japanese concept of beauty is based on concealment…I suddenly realized that I had to change my approach and dress so that I could identify a woman,” she said, according to the Washington Post.
‘East meets West’
In the year In 1965, Mori showed her first collection abroad, in New York, under the theme “East meets West”.
Her designs combine traditional patterns like cranes and cherry blossoms — and her trademark butterflies — with Western motifs, from wool to sharp satin stitching.
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Mori moved her brand from Tokyo to Paris in the late 1970s and was quickly embraced by fashion insiders.
She saw a difference between herself and her Japanese peers who later made international names for themselves – like Issei Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons fame.
“Young Japanese designers in Paris are avant-garde in their sensibility,” she told The Washington Post. “I’m not, I like to follow the traditional way.”
Mori built her brand into a business empire, which at the time was an entire building designed by architect Kenzo Tang in Tokyo — later demolished and replaced by another structure with typical Japanese speed.
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From the building’s demise to her fashion house Haute Couture to her retirement, “not everything was positive,” she reflected in her Yomiuri column.
“It was like my butterfly wings were torn off. But this butterfly was able to fly around the world for 70 years because I loved making clothes.”
‘wanted to be different’
Mori also designed the gown worn by Princess Masako at their wedding in 1993 and the uniforms of Japan Airlines flight attendants.
In the year In 1985, she created stage costumes for “Madame Butterfly” performed at La Scala in Milan.
But in the year With mounting losses in the early 2000s, her empire was largely sold off and she closed her Paris atelier in 2004 after holding her last fashion show there.
Hana Mori boutiques remain open in Tokyo and her fragrances are still sold worldwide.
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As a powerful businessman, Mori was rare in Japan, where boardrooms are still largely dominated by men.
Talking about her early married life, she once said that she was not present when she was invited with her husband’s friends.
At the time, she said, “Japan was a country of gentlemen,” but “I want to be different.”
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