(c) 2015, The Yomiuri Shimbun.
(c) 2015, The Yomiuri Shimbun.
TOKYO — In this installment of the 70 Years After World War II interview series, Hanae Mori, 88, talks about how Western-style fashion took the country by storm.
Born in Shimane Prefecture in 1926, Mori graduated from Tokyo Women's Christian University. She opened a clothing store, Hiyoshiya, in 1951. From the 1950s, Mori designed costumes for more than 200 movies, including "Kurutta Kaji-tsu" ("Crazed Fruit") and "Taiyo no Kisetsu" ("Season of the Sun"). In 1996, she was awarded the Order of Culture.
Excerpts from the interview follow.
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The Western-style dressmaking boom began right after World War II, with dressmaking schools springing up across the country.
I began attending one of these schools so I could make clothes for myself and my children.
My classmates were women who had lost their husbands in the war and were learning a trade to support themselves, and others who were "training" to become wives.
We had spent the war wearing clothes like monpe work pants and were eager to put on something more beautiful. Only poor material was available, but we poured everything into making clothes.
Even though the clothes produced by women were modest, they were infused with the anticipation of affluence, beauty and a wonderful future.
My dream was to make clothes for large numbers of women. In 1951, I opened a Western clothing store in Tokyo's Shinjuku district that I called Hiyoshiya.
The store was on the second floor of a building and hard to spot, so I installed windows in the wall facing the street and placed U.S.-made mannequins there. For material, I bought goods released from the Occupation forces in places like Ameyayokocho in Tokyo. As soon as I placed a piece of pink or yellow clothing on a mannequin, someone would swoop in and buy it. I ran out of things to dress the mannequins in, so I wrapped them in the paper I used for wrapping the items on sale at my store.
Clothes reflect the times. The miniskirt boom that started in the mid-1960s was an expression of the energy women had to break through old value systems.
When Prime Minister Eisaku Sato visited the United States in 1969 to negotiate the return of Okinawa, I designed outfits for his wife, Hiroko, who accompanied him.
When the 62-year-old Hiroko stepped out of the airplane's door and waved to the crowd, her knees were visible.
Someone in the Japanese Embassy in Washington had told me that in the United States, where miniskirts were hugely popular, long hemlines would stand out.
So I spoke with the first lady, and she was excited to try something new. I created an ensemble of a coat and dress that stopped 5 centimeters (about two inches) above her knees.
Opinions were mixed about Hiroko's appearance.
In letters to the editor in a newspaper, a man accused her, saying, "She should stick to being a Japanese wife," while a woman praised her, saying, "The prime minister's wife looked wonderful in a miniskirt."
I felt that the miniskirt fad was a symbol of how women were moving from a passive role to one in which they actively expressed their views.
In the 1980s, suits with padded shoulders became popular.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Law came into effect in 1986, and a suit became the symbol of the working woman.
My father, who was a doctor, once told me: "If you're going to work, become a doctor. Otherwise, be a housewife."
That man's daughter became a designer and in 1986, was the first woman to become a member of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives in its 40-year history.
I have spent many years feeling women's energy and transformation through clothing. What I have kept in mind was to make clothes that would not overly emphasize femininity but rather show the presence of women.
It makes me happy to see female leaders appearing in various fields around the world. In Japan as well, the government is trying to help women prosper. But still, men need to change. I think it is important that we create a society in which both men and women have more choices.
"One dollar blouse" — seeing these words in a famous New York department store shocked me on my first visit to the city in 1961. The store was designed so that the higher up in the store you went, the more luxurious the products were. On a basement sales floor I saw some Japanese-made cotton blouses. The price? $1 each. That showed me how cheap Japanese products were.
This made me sad because I had made movie costumes for many famous Japanese actresses, and I had seen high-quality fabrics and traditional techniques all over the country. I decided I needed to show the world how great the fabrics and techniques of Japan were.
But at the time, Japanese saw Americans as living modern lifestyles, with homes filled with appliances, and everyone wanted to catch up to the United States.
Nobody was thinking about exporting luxury women's clothing to the United States. The only person who would support me was my husband.
In 1965, I showed my work in New York for the first time. I felt like I was carrying the Rising Sun on my shoulders.
I sent invitations made from Japanese paper from Japan using stamps commemorating the Tokyo Olympics. I used handwoven Nishijin-ori fabric, indigo dye and other techniques to make clothes that expressed a traditional Japanese beauty.
In 1977, I went to Paris and became a full member of La Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne.
I was the first new member to the world of high-class, custom-made clothing in 10 years. At the time, there were few women, and I was the first Asian.
A famous journalist critiqued me as making clothes that were "more French than those made by the French." At first I took it as praise, but apparently it meant that I should look more closely at my roots and seek my own personal style.
Working in the West made me highly aware of Japan. Seeking to know more, I traveled around the country examining fabrics used in kimono and obi sashes.
I also took up the study of dyeing techniques again. Those experiences helped me establish a style that was my own.
After the war, Japanese people had a great appetite for Western culture and information. Our lives became more affluent, and these trends were reflected in our fashion.
I think that is a good thing, but I am skeptical about what has happened to Japan recently.
People are flooded with information and controlled by it. To me, everyone looks like everyone else. People appear to have trouble expressing their own personal style.
We have entered an age in which people and information flow freely across national borders. And precisely because of that, we should look closely at our roots. If we can do that, we can create a style that is truly ours.