I’D LIKE you to imagine what it’s like to be Octavia Spencer — or any other woman who has had to go against the flow, for that matter. Ms. Spencer was born in 1972, with the backdrop of the South’s racial attitudes. Her mother worked as a maid in the American South. Her father died when she was 13, and she graduated from university with a degree in English — despite being dyslexic. She would spend the next years of her life climbing her way up Hollywood’s ladder. And in 2012, when she swept the awards season of 2012 for her work in The Help, designers refused to dress her for her big nights. “I’m just a short, chubby girl,” she was quoted as saying in Elle magazine.
Who would fly in to save her but a similarly unconventional designer, Tadashi Shoji.
Mr. Shoji was born in Japan in 1948, a few years after the end of the Second World War in the Pacific theater. He studied Fine Arts in Tokyo, but eventually moved to the United States. In the process of refining his work, he became a fashion designer. He launched his own label in the 1980s, and in the early 2000s, designed gowns for the Miss Universe pageant. With Octavia Spencer as a leading example: black, middle-aged, and large, he has dressed other women who aren’t exactly in the mold of what Hollywood holds to an ideal: young, thin, and white.
Mr. Shoji was in the country last week to open his new boutique on the second floor of Rustan’s Makati. More than 700 other department stores in the world carry his brand. Amazingly, Rustan’s has had him in its roster for 24 years, while Mr. Shoji’s career has only spanned a little above 30 years.
“At the time, he was doing almost all-black,” said Reggie Aguinaldo, Buying Director for Rustan’s in New York. It’s just their luck then, that Mr. Shoji would hit it big, and as he expanded his own line, so did his displays at Rustan’s. “What’s fantastic about him is his fit. All his dresses fit any woman’s frame and size.”
“Any nationality, any size, any age, I can design,” said Mr. Shoji in an interview with BusinessWorld. Dressed in a varicolored seersucker suit, one can see the streak of unconventionality that makes his designs so attractive. It’s not that his designs are avant-garde or anything: what makes his clothes revolutionary is his philosophy for any woman in his dresses somehow becomes classically beautiful, but keeping their own identity.
“I can make all of them beautiful. This is our company’s dressmaking philosophy.”
As we’ve mentioned above, he first trained as an artist, but ended up becoming a fashion designer. In a way, the two disciplines are intertwined, and Mr. Shoji explains, “Women’s bodies are a canvas. Painting is art; painting is beautiful: it’s proportional. Women’s figures are beautiful when everything is proportional.
“Same thing. I’m sculpting [with] fabric on the woman’s figure.”
Other designers say that they take inspiration from a certain thought, or a memory. While Mr. Shoji does the same, a few of his recent collections have been inspired by something more urgent: the news. For his Autumn/Winter 2018 collection, he was inspired by the #MeToo movement, which had women in high places battle sexual harassment on their way to the top.
He shakes his head at the thought that some women are harassed because of what they wear. “It doesn’t make any sense. Women can wear anything.” In a subversive move, as beautiful and chic a middle finger can be, he then designed a collection that clung to the body and emphasized the figure. “You can wear anything to treat yourself. That’s my statement.” he said as a message to women.
Big business makes a lot of money telling women that they’re not enough. Never thin enough, never smart enough, never white enough, never beautiful enough. Mr. Shoji takes the opposite route. His clothes are telling women that they are enough, and the dress serves to reward this. “I’m a designer for every woman. I don’t have one particular muse.
“Any woman is beautiful. They are entitled to be beautiful. They can wear any kind of dress.” — Joseph L. Garcia