Since making his runway debut at New York Fashion Week in 2007, Tadashi Shoji’s figure flattering designs have been a popular choice on the red carpet with celebrities that range from Kate Beckinsale to Octavia Spencer. Not just about the glamour, his classic and elegant designs are often seen on the FLOTUS. BAZAAR learns more about the eponymous label.
When did you know you wanted to be a designer?
I’m definitely what you might call an “accidental” designer. I thought I was going to be an artist and even studied with contemporary artist Jiro Takamatsu for three years but the creative medium proved difficult for me. Unsure of what path to take, I took my chances and moved to Los Angeles in 1973. To secure a visa, a friend of mine suggested I attend the Los Angeles Trade Technical College. It was the first time I ever even considered a career in fashion. It was during draping class when I had my epiphany— draping is just as creative a medium as painting and sculpting. Since that day, fashion became my artistic channel and I’ve never looked back.
What are the challenges to setting up your own fashion label?
Starting your own business is by far the most challenging journey to ever embark on. When I first started out, I worked with a business partner for almost 10 years. He focused on the business side while I handled design and production. However, it didn’t quite work out as I envisioned and I eventually decided to end the partnership. To go out entirely on my own was a big risk but I’m glad I took the risk.
How does being Japanese play a role in your aesthetics and brand philosophy?
When I left Japan more than 30 years ago, I fully immersed myself into creating a new life in America, always avoiding being labeled a Japanese designer. It wasn’t until recently when I challenged myself to reach back to those beautiful childhood memories in Japan that helped shape me as a person. My Spring 2016 Runway collection embraced that side of my life and translated my joy of springtime in Japan through my designs.
Who is the Tadashi Shoji woman?
The Tadashi Shoji woman embodies confidence and effortless beauty. She is sexy and comfortable in her skin.
What’s the first piece you designed?
I can’t believe I still remember the first piece I ever designed, but I do! It was the seventies and I was a student at the Los Angeles Technical Trade College. It must have been some sort of assignment for one of my classes but the first fashion piece I ever made was a gingham print dress for a girl.
What is your favourite piece worn by a celebrity?
I have been very fortunate to dress some of Hollywood’s biggest names over the years. One of my favourite moments was when First Lady Michelle Obama wore a Tadashi Shoji gown that was straight from our Fall 2015 runway collection. It was such an honor to dress her for such an important engagement, a White House State Dinner honoring Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie. I was traveling in Shanghai the day of the dinner and received the news earlier that day that the First Lady had worn one of my cocktail dresses for a school visit with Akie Abe. I just assumed she would wear another designer that evening. But later when I skyped with my team in LA, I heard cheering in the background as the news came in that she wore the gown. I couldn’t believe it! She looked stunning.
What’s the FW16 collection inspired by?
This season, I explore the allure of body ornamentation—from the intricate detail work of tattooing to the symbolic expression of skin beautification. The designs were bold and seductive.
How has the brand evolved over the years?
The fashion industry has evolved since I started my company in 1982 and continues at a rapid pace. With the launch of our e-commerce site, people from all around the world are able to access the collection from anywhere. This shift allows us to open ourselves up to a much larger audience globally. Last year, we successfully launched our kid’s collection and we will continue to introduce new categories. We are also quickly opening new retail boutiques that will offer a more sensorial retail experience.
Which celebrity would you love to see in your designs?
It would be amazing to see my designs on Princess Kate Middleton. I would love to design a paring look for her and her daughter, Princess Charlotte. Now I know she only wears British designers but I think its time for her to branch out. My wish is to be the first designer to break that tradition!
What advice do you have for young designers?
My advice for young designers is to take risks but to always be willing to learn from their mistakes. Find a clear vision and voice and surround yourself with people willing to support that vision. It is a fast-paced life, full of ups and downs, but the rewards are limitless.
By Debby Kwong