The Japanese designer, whose elegant creations were worn by high-profile figures from Hillary Clinton to Empress Masako, died last Thursday, her office told CNN via email. No cause of death was given in the company’s statement, which added that a funeral service has already been held with close relatives.
Born in Shimane prefecture, Japan, in 1926, Mori opened her first Tokyo studio, Hiyoshiya, in 1951, and another three years later. Much of her early career was dedicated to making costumes for the movie industry during a period now considered the golden age of Japanese cinema.
Hanae Mori (second from right) presents some of her creations during a private fashion show at the Japanese Embassy in London in 1972. Credit: Douglas Miller/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
But her ambitions were global — even at a time when the names of Asian designers barely registered in Western fashion capitals. Her visits to New York and Paris in the 1960s proved formative, as did an encounter with Coco Channel during which the French designer suggested she try on an especially bright orange suit.
She did just that, often blending Western silhouettes with Asian-style motifs, like the butterflies that would later see her dubbed “Madame Butterfly.” Mori staged her first overseas show, themed “East Meets West,” in New York in 1965. And from there she began blazing a trail that successful Japanese designers, such as Rei Kawakubo, would follow for decades to come.
Model Benedetta Barzini wearing a Hanae Mori sleeveless dress printed with a yellow-and-green butterfly, one of the designer’s signature motifs. Credit: David Bailey/Condé Nast/Shutterstock
Together with husband and business partner, Ken, she grew her label in tandem with Japan’s booming economy. She opened a showroom on New York’s Seventh Avenue in 1973 and, four years later, an atelier on Paris’ prestigious Avenue Montaigne, where she counted many of Europe’s fashion giants as neighbors. She also became the first Asian designer to be accepted into the prestigious Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne, making her one of a select group permitted to use the term “haute couture” to describe her hand-crafted garments.
Over the years, her designs were seen on major runways and worn by stars from Grace Kelly to Princess Grace of Monaco. She also produced costumes for major stage productions, including “Cinderella” at the Paris Opera House and, fittingly, “Madame Butterfly” at Milan’s La Scala.
Fashion designer Hanae Mori walks the runway at her Haute Couture Fall-Winter 2004/05 show, as part of the Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week. Credit: Victor Virgile/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images
Mori also dressed Japanese athletes for the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. The next year, Japan’s Empress — then Crown Princess — Masako wore a custom white gown by Mori to her wedding.