Designer Tadashi Shoji on giving every woman her Hollywood moment
By Donna Kato; photos by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week
There are two kinds of evening gowns. There’s the imposing entrance-maker, drawing every eye in the room to its wow factor.
Then there’s there’s the subtle elegance of a Tadashi Shoji gown, beautifully appropriate and designed to make every woman – whether she’s a Hollywood movie star, beauty queen or suburban fundraiser – feel confident and look gorgeous.
Shoji’s evening and cocktail dresses have been worn by Gabourey Sidebe, Rachel McAdams, Eva Longoria, Oprah, Beyoncé, Selena Gomez and dozens of other stars for their red carpet moment. He was the official designer for several Miss Universe pageants. And, his gowns are an ubiquitous presence at gala parties and benefit events around the world.
His special-occasion dresses are sold widely in stores such as Macy’s, Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue in sizes that range from petite to plus, and most are priced in the $300 to $1,000 range.
He talked to Scene magazine about his philosophy for designing special-event dresses and how every woman can have her Hollywood moment.
Why do you think your dresses appeal to such a mix of women?
It is simple: You can make the most beautiful dress, but if a woman puts it on and is not comfortable in it, she will not wear it and it will not sell. Even with celebrities, feeling good in a dress gives them confidence, and you see it in the way they are standing and smiling. And if a woman at a party doesn’t get a compliment on how she looks, she can’t help thinking, “Why am I wearing this? Did I choose the wrong dress?”
How is it that your designs fit both curvy, plus-size figures and petite frames that are equally hard to fit?
I pay attention to the style lines, the preciseness of the fitting and the cut. I use fabrics like stretch jersey, chiffon and silk, and drape them in a way that is most flattering to emphasize curves and slim parts of the body that women tend to be concerned about, especially as they age. My dresses also drape around the body and lift bust lines, very good for small women. When a customer tells me, “I can’t wear a body-hugging dress” and then is surprised that she can, that makes me happy.
A gala means everyone is dressed in their best. How does a woman stand out in a sea of glamour gowns?
Don’t wear a too-tight dress. Women get obsessed about the number on the label and think that squeezing into a small size means she is that smaller size. A too-tight dress makes you look fat. Look at yourself in profile, check for bulges. [If] you see them, you need a bigger size. Wearing a size bigger might make you look 10 pounds thinner. The most flattering dresses incorporate silk jersey, chiffon and stretch jersey, because the fabrics drape beautifully on the body. Pay attention to the style lines.
Your inspiration board for Fall 2010 includes photos of tree branches in silhouette, rocky formations, windblown terrain, dunes. How did that translate to your collection?
Nature inspires me always. I travel often, and I was looking through the airplane window at landscape and started to think about the beauty of Mother Earth and how important ecology has become for everyone. That is how I started to work this season with my design team.
How important is technology to your creative process, your business?
It’s definitely important, from designing to selling. I gather inspiration and information on the Internet and with an office in Shanghai and showroom in New York, I Skype meetings and connect in a way that I could not do before. Designers can now create fabrics and patterns using a computer, and we get exactly what we envision, from start to finish.
Do you have favorite cities where you recharge, people watch, gather ideas?
My favorite cities used to be in warm climates in Europe, like Spain. But now, I would say I like to go to Southeast Asia. It is fresh, always changing, surprising.
The Skinny on Shoji
Los Angeles-based Tadashi Shoji, 62, started his company in 1982. He manufactures his clothing in Shanghai and has a showroom in New York, where he also presents his higher-end runway collection during Fashion Week twice a year.
Born in Sendai, Japan, Shoji’s first passion was fine arts. He studied and apprenticed with one of Japan’s leading contemporary artists in the 1960s before moving to New York, then Los Angeles in the 1970s. He started his fashion-designing career with Bill Whitten, who created stage costumes for Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Neil Diamond and the Jacksons.
Today, in addition to his labels Tadashi and Tadashi Shoji, Shoji’s name is on a line of home items that includes bedding, bath accessories and candles.