Hanae Mori was born in rural Japan in 1926 and studied literature at Tok-Won Women’s Christian College. After marrying Ken Mori, who was in the textile business, she turned her attention to fashion and opened her first studio in Tokyo in 1951. At the same time, she began to design costumes for Japan’s burgeoning postwar film industry.
Mori’s unique contribution to women’s fashion was to merge a Japanese sensibility and luxurious Asian-inspired silken fabrics with Parisian-influenced luxury tailoring. She was often quoted on the importance, also, of a woman’s eye in being able to design clothes that women would want to wear. Her suits, for example, were exquisitely tailored but decidedly feminine in shape, with accents such as double pocket flaps outlined in white on a trim dark jacket.
In 1965, she presented her first collection in New York, in a show dubbed “East meets West” by the enthusiastic fashion press. Upscale department stores placed orders for her designs. In 1975, Hanae Mori presented her first collection in Paris and opened an haute couture salon there. She is the only Asian designer to have been invited to become a member of La Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne and was also awarded the French Legion of Honor.
Along with her couture collections, Mori continued to design costumes, eventually branching out from film to international ballet and opera productions. In 1985 she created costumes for the opera Madame Butterfly at La Scala in Milan; the next year she collaborated with choreographer/dancer Rudolf Nureyev to design costumes for his interpretation of Cinderella for the Paris Opera Ballet. The butterfly became her “symbol,” so to speak, and inspired one of the fragrances in her signature collection.
After retiring from fashion design in 2004, Hanae Mori continues to divide her time between Paris and Tokyo, where she has established the Hanae Mori Foundation to organize exhibitions and encourage young designers to pursue fashion careers.