Tadashi Shoji Does Bridal
by emili vesilind
|An ivory gazaar strapless gown with hand-cut floral detail, from Shoji’s inaugural collection|
|Tadashi Shoji dresses at the brand’s boutique in South Coast Plaza|
|Shoji reviews designs with members of his team|
When asked to define great style, fashion designer Tadashi Shoji says, without hesitation, “comfortableness.” Then adds, “Everyone can do a nice design, but if it’s not comfortable, the [woman] is miserable all day.”
Shoji, one of the West Coast’s most prolific and enduring designers, has built his business on creating feminine, wearable, special-occasion dresses that not only flatter the form, but also cradle it in comfort, so the wearer can dance all night without fretting over itchy straps or a binding bustier.
When Shoji recently announced his 29-year-old label would launch a bridal collection in January, we could already hear the collective cooing from local brides-to-be once they discovered the news.
A Well-Crafted Collection
Of course wedding attire isn’t new to Shoji. His core Tadashi Shoji collection and ready-to-wear Tadashi Shoji Runway lines have long been staples in major bridal departments, outfitting bridesmaids and mothers of the bride. But the seeds for the current collection were sown last year when the designer created an all-white ready-to-wear collection that flew out of Neiman Marcus. “So I said, ‘Why not?’” he says. “Everyone is suddenly doing a bridal line, and my dresses have always been used in weddings anyway.”
The collection of classic white and ivory gowns exudes an effortless grace—and encompasses many of the top trends in bridal right now, including single- shouldered bodices, long sleeves done in lace, and the ubiquitous contrasting bow belt. But the collection’s sensibility is strictly Shoji. Elegant and unfussy—even when ornately detailed—each gown feels classic and thoughtful, as though the designer clearly envisioned the woman who would love it dearly.
“We have two types of dresses,” says Shoji. “Ones that are very clean and ones with a lot of ornamentation. We do both sides.” He quips, “The ornate stuff is for the first marriage. The clean stuff is for the second marriage.” For those who can’t wait until January, the line soft-launches this month at the Tadashi stores at South Coast Plaza and The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.
An Artistic Beginning
Shoji, who was born and raised in Sendai, Japan, began painting at a young age and eventually moved to Tokyo to study fine art. There, he apprenticed under Japan’s late iconic contemporary artist Jiro Takamatsu.
It was a fascination with the US that led him to Los Angeles for college, where he ended up studying fashion design “accidentally,” he says. While still a student in the 1970s, Shoji was initiated into the world of celebrity dressing as an assistant to famed costume designer Bill Whitten, who counted Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Neil Diamond, Michael Jackson, and Earth Wind & Fire among his now-legendary clients. “Bill taught me a lot,” says Shoji. “He was a costume designer, so it’s different than what I do, but I learned about fit and construction.”
The designer launched his eponymous collection in 1982 after recognizing there was a dearth of options for women shopping for party and event dresses. His designs are now carried in 4,000 major department and specialty stores worldwide.
Shoji frocks tend to feel ageless, evidenced by the number of celebrities who choose to wear them, including Helen Mirren, Queen Latifah, Mo’Nique (who was wearing a Shoji design when she won her Oscar), Beyoncé, and Blake Lively. Perhaps it’s because his inspirations are timeless. “I’m not so inspired by fashion history or fashion,” he says, “more like nature, flowers, architecture, and modern art.”
Dutch photographer Ron van Dongen’s book The Tulip Anthology partly inspired the designer’s Tadashi Shoji Spring 2012 collection, which is full of shapely skirts and dresses hand-painted in tulip hues; glamorous silk-chiffon gowns draped to perfection; and 1970s-inspired, one-shouldered sequined party dresses boasting a Halston vibe.
This brand of beauty isn’t fabric-deep. “I try to give value to my customers,” he says. “And that probably comes from my heritage and background. Superficial beauty is one thing—true value is another.” South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa, 714-438-0056
Fashion shoot: December 2013 issue of Los Angeles Confidential magazine.