Designer Spotlight: Hanae Mori

Posted by Cherie
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 Hanae Mori by Frederic Aranda


Editor's note: One of my goals for 2016 was to continue to help spread and share our love and knowledge of why this little world of vintage loveliness that I have created amongst these web pages even exists. Beyond posting pretty pictures and editorials and sharing stories of days gone by, everything I do with my team really springs from my great love of the vintage that I source and find all around the world. It is at heart, all about vintage, and yet sometimes I feel that with all the other aspects that go into running this blog and the site that I can get caught up in so many things that take away from the simple act of my love of the great designers and their creations. To offset that, I have decided to highlight one of the designers whose work I love each week. This is not intended as a comprehensive biography but rather bits and pieces of what I have learned through my years in this business, along with some examples of the work and pieces I have in my shop. It is my little weekly love tribute to someone from the past and I hope you enjoy this new addition to our blog. xx Cherie  


"While the Japanese avant-garde designers of the 80s are often seen as the pinnacle of Japanese fashion represented in the West, designer Hanae Mori is often wrongfully lumped with them. Hanae Mori couldn’t be more different from her younger, avant-garde counterparts. Having opened her first boutique in Tokyo in 1954, Mori’s style is a melding of the classic styles of eastern and western. Her real breakthrough into the western world was in 1965 when she debuted her first ready-to-wear show in New York. In 1977, she was the first Asian designer to join the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne and her place in the international fashion scene was cemented. Mori’s designs were known for their mixing of cultural styles that she imbued with restrained elegance, accented by her famous butterfly motif which became her signature. Since her retirement in 2004, Hanae Mori has established the Hanae Mori Foundation which aims to foster young talent in fashion."

This is the blurb that we have at the top of our dedicated Hanae Mori page in the shop and is a great rundown of her career. What that blurb doesn't impart is the sheer beauty and depth of her designs and the vast array of what she has created. I absolutely love her work. (yeah I know, there I go saying how much I love a designer again - but it's true - and always is - I swear on my vintage collection it is)

When I hear people talk about females in the design world and how tough it is I always think about Hanae who basically kicked ass for her entire career and did it on her own terms. On the official Hanae Mori website they break down her time line and if you take a moment to really read it over and note the dates of the achievements she was making it is absolutely astonishing. It reads:

1951 - Opens her first studio in Shinjuku, Tokyo.

1954 - Boutique & salon Hanae Mori opens in Ginza.

1963 - Vivid Co., Ltd. is established. Expanded into Prêt-à-Porter.

1965 - Presents her first overseas collection in New York, highly acclaimed as "EAST MEETS WEST".

1967 - Contracts for bed linen with West Point Pepperell Co. in U.S.A.

1968 - Contracts with the Handicrafts & Handlooms Export Corporation of India and presents Hanae Mori Made in India Collection to the world market.

1970 - Hanae Mori Boutique at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York.

1972 - Presents her collection at the Japanese Embassy in London.

1973 - Opens a showroom at 550 Seventh Avenue in New York.

1975 - Invited to Monaco by H.S.H. Princess Grace and shows her Haute Couture Collection.

1976 - Opens Hanae Mori Boutique at 27 East 79th Street in New York.

1977 - Opens Haute Couture Maison in Avenue Montaigne in Paris. Becomes a member of La Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne.

1978 - Opens Hanae Mori Building in Omotesando, Tokyo. / Invited to China to provide design training. Launches China-made blouses, Hanae Mori Made in China.

1985 - Opens Boutique in Faubourg St. Honoré, Paris.

1989 - Holds "Hanae Mori Exhibition" in Tokyo, to commemorate her 35th anniversary as a designer.

1990 - Holds "Hanae Mori Exhibition" in Paris and Monaco.

1992 - Designs the official uniform for the Japanese Delegation to the Barcelona Olympics. Haute Couture Maison is moved to Place de l'Alma in Paris.

1994 - Designs the official uniform for the Japanese Delegation to the Lillehammer Olympics.

1995 - French company, Cosmetique et Parfum International announces Hanae Mori Parfums, fragrances.

2006 - "Hanae Mori Exhibition: The Art of Hand Craftsmanship" is held in Tokyo and Paris. (Also in Shimane in 2007)

2009 - "Made by Hand - Hanae Mori and young artists Exhibition" is held in Mito and Tokyo.

2010 - The wedding dress shown by French company, CYMBELINE.

2012 - "Made by Hand - Hanae Mori's world of Haute Couture Exhibition" is held in Tobu Department Store in Tokyo. Starts designing ceramics, and porcelain with Haviland & Co. in Limoges, France.

2015 - "HANAE MORI HAUTE COUTURE Hanae Mori ---The Work and Style " is held at Iwami Art Museum in Shimane.


She was the first Asian female to be admitted to Haute Couture. Her work is held in museums world-wide and I myself have sold at least a half a dozen ensembles to a variety of museums around the globe that now reside in their permanent collections. Her work is just that good. In particular, her silk chiffon caftans and loose cut silk dresses with their wildly printed designs that incorporate traditional Japanese elements with Western design are collectible. Her signature butterflies often flit across the surface of the best of her designs. Her hand-beaded evening dresses, covered with glittering butterflies, are her trademark and highly collectible. You can see from the examples in the shop how vibrant and colorful her designs are and her level of mixing colors and prints is unsurpassed.

My favorite era for her work is the sixties through the seventies - for some reason these are the years that her prints seem especially vibrant and there is this sense of the clashing of her worlds - her Japanese heritage mixes with the youth movement of the sixties & seventies and both of these somehow mesh with the strictness and level of craftmanship required by Haute Couture. Japanese designers are often slated as being only able to produce the avant garde but she defies that 'rule'. She herself remarked in this in a 1988 interview: "The young Japanese designers who live in Paris are passionately avant-garde," she said of iconoclasts Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo for Comme des Garcons. "I am not. I love to follow the traditional way." Following that traditional manner shows in her clothes and their construction. The vast majority of pieces you see will be from her main-line label and not her true Haute Couture (despite many dealers labelling them as Haute Couture, but without that numbered tag they are main-line and considered Demi-couture FYI). Even these however are made to demi-couture standards and are often almost entirely hand made (or even more often, especially with the earliest pieces, are entirely hand made as she herself notes below, even when not the numbered Haute Couture pieces).

It is actually astonishing that a woman of her stature and level of success has never had a major exhibition in the West. I also get sad that so few outside of the addicted vintage collectors and people who actually live in Japan and Asia, know who she is or what her work looks like. She was a superstar in her own country and in Paris and was always called Madame. She was not just successful by any normal standards, she was a golden shining super star. At her peak she was running a half a billion dollar empire. She was perhaps the richest designer in the world at the time with over 60 shops in Japan and two ready to wear boutiques in Paris, along with her Haute Couture salon there. Her empire included "newspapers and magazines (including Japanese versions of Women's Wear Daily and Interview), a cable television network, restaurants, educational and cultural-exchange programs as well as the half-dozen or so fashion divisions. In the US, major specialty stores carry her label, including I. Magnin and Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills."

In a 1988 article in the Los Angeles Times she shared how she ended up in Paris:
"She took herself from Tokyo to New York in the mid-1960s and set up her first couture salon. She kept it for more than 10 years and would have stayed longer, "but when the economic situation in the States was not so good, store buyers in New York asked me to cut my prices," she recalled. "That was not interesting to me." (Mori couture ranges from $5,000 to about $50,000, ready-to-wear from $500 to $5,000.) And so, in the late '70s, she moved her salon to Paris. "I wanted to be an international designer. Paris is the center.""

Later in that same article her husband addressed her obscurity in the West even then: "In spite of all she has done, she is not very well known in the United States," Kei said. "Our priority is to pursue the American market for feminine working-women's clothes."

The look on someones face when I suggest that perhaps they try looking at a Hanae piece for an event makes me laugh at times. Literally the name can draw an absolute blank for most - even if that person is in the fashion industry. It is astonishing. Once introduced to her work, it's a different story - another addict is instantly made.

Her work is entirely her own and it is actually a travesty that more information about her is not available. Even on her own website, besides what I shared above, there is very little. Where are the books and retrospectives on her? We can rattle off facts about the Givenchy's, Dior's and Halston's of the world but one of the few women who made some of the most beautiful dresses the planet has ever seen and climbed and worked her way into the esteem halls of true Haute Couture and ran an empire, is left to be rather obscure despite all of her success.

Here and there you will find little snippets that give you a tiny window into her mindset. In a 2012 interview with the Asahi Shimbum, Senior Staff Writer Makiko Takahashi asked: "In terms of Japan's traditional expressions, what is different between now and the 1960s, when you set your sights on the world?" Hanae's reply is not only interesting as far as cultural barriers and perceptions and what they were when she began, but also the change in how fashion and the attention to design has dramatically changed everything in fashion as a whole since, not just in regards to her own work. Her response is an appalling observation on what we deem as high end in our present day. Her answer to the question above was this:

"I had a hard time transcending national barriers, which were much higher in those days. When I was watching "Madam Butterfly" in the United States, I felt like saying, "Japanese women aren't like this. Don't treat us like that." That passion became a source of energy. Barriers are much lower now, but appreciation of the human touch has deteriorated. This makes it difficult for people to distinguish clothes that have been carefully handmade based on tradition. Some people who looked at my works from 20 years ago asked me if they had really been made by hand. That makes me sad."

It makes me sad as well, but at least I know that I am lucky enough to be able to share her work with those that truly love and appreciate it. I have never had the pleasure of meeting Madame Mori but I would like to think that she would love me for showcasing her work and keeping the early pieces alive and loved by a new generation of women.

A Hanae Mori gown belongs in every true vintage lover's wardrobe and that name should just roll off your tongue like a delicious little bit of candy and your heart should beat a little faster at the thought of owning one.

Once you do - you will never look back.



Shop our selection of Hanae Mori in the shop now >



(L)  Hanae Mori dress. Photo by William Bell, 1966.   (R)  Hanae Mori, American Vogue, September 1984.



1970s Hanae Mori Dress from Shrimpton Couture  (click here to see this full lookbook >)



1966-69 Couture Hanae Mori Set (L) At the MET  /  (R) from Shrimpton Couture.



(L) 1976 Hanae Mori Ad.   (R) Hanae Mori Jumpsuit, 1967.





Indre Rockefeller in Hanae Mori dresses from Shrimpton Couture (Click here to see this original blog post with more details)



1968-70 Hanae Mori Jumpsuit at the FIDM.



1970s Hanae Mori Couture Beaded Silk Chiffon Dress from Shrimpton Couture - one of the gowns we have sold to a major museum



(L) Model wearing a dress by Hanae Mori, 1970s  /  (R) Hanae Mori ad, Vogue UK, November 1972. 



Magenta Chiffon Pyjamas by Hanae Mori, Photo by Richard Avedon, Vogue, 1966.

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