Pioneering Japanese 'butterflies' designer Hanae Mori dies at 96

FILE PHOTO: Japanese fashion designer Hanae Mori looks on at the Spring/Summer 2006 Castilla y Leon fashion show at the Merced Palace in Burgos, northern Spain, October 6, 2005.

TOKYO (Reuters) - Hanae Mori, a pioneering designer who brought Japanese motifs to the global haute couture stage and created the wedding dress worn by Empress Masako, had died aged 96.

Famed for her butterfly designs, Mori was born in the rural prefecture of Shimane, recalling in later life how the stylish clothes ordered for her as a girl by her doctor father from Mitsukoshi, a noted Tokyo department store, left her feeling "embarrassed".

Still, she later made her way to the city, where she attended university and then design school, opening her own studio there in its still partly war-ravaged centre in 1951.

Working as a designer for movie directors helped hone her style, but a turning point came in 1961, when she went to Paris to do research on designer Coco Chanel and then visited New York.

"I felt strongly aware of my roots as a 'Japanese person'," Mori - who her office said had died on Aug. 11 - told the Rakuten FashionWeek Tokyo website in an interview.

"Cheap Japanese products sold in the basements of department stores... The depiction of Madame Butterfly in the opera 'Madame Butterfly,' which I saw in New York," she said.

"'This is not Japan!' I decided to try my luck with creations that were made in Japan."

In 1965, she presented her first collection in New York, which garnered attention for its mixture of Eastern and Western themes.

Over the next decade, shows in Europe followed and she opened a fashion house in Paris, becoming the first Asian woman to be admitted to a French haute couture association.

"I chose the butterfly, symbolising the Japanese woman spreading her wings around the world, as my theme," she added.

Notable commissions that followed before her retirement in 2004 included the dress worn by Empress Masako at her wedding to then-Crown Prince Naruhito in 1993.

She also designed uniforms for Japan Airlines flight attendants and for Japan's Olympic teams in the 1992 Barcelona Summer Games and the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Games.

(Reporting by Elaine Lies; editing by John Stonestreet)

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