The dress makes the man
By Patricia McFall
Tadashi Shoji, official designer of this year’s Rose Queen and Court gowns, was born and raised in Sendai, a gray industrial town in Japan with a cold climate, both temperature and artistically.
It was an unlikely playground for the future artist and fashion designer, whose originality, individualism and creativity were bound to arouse more suspicion or even hostility than encouragement.
As soon as he was able, he went straight to Tokyo, where there was a “climate of openness.’’ There Tadashi studied four years with Jiro Takamatsu, the avant-garde artist often credited with bringing Japan into the world of contemporary art.
After that, Tadashi needed a new world to conquer. His original goal was to leave his mark on the New York art scene.
He made what he thought would be a temporary stop in Los Angeles, and felt so much at home that he stayed. Tadashi enrolled at Los Angeles Trade Technical College, where he could apply his artistic training to a practical course of study in fashion design that was far more likely to produce income.
He did not allow Southern California’s well-groomed lawns to grow under his feet. While still a student, he worked for top costume designer Bill Whitton outfitting recording artists like Neil Diamond, Elton John, Stevie Wonder and the Jacksons.
“The clothes themselves were so structured,’’ he explained, “and I’m impatient.’’
He was attracted to the softer fabrics more often found in women’s clothing — and to the more fluid lines that go with them.
After serving an apprenticeship with a clothing manufacturer, he was ready to establish his own company in 1982.
Today, his customer base reads like a “Who’s Who’’ of celebrities. It might take less time to list those superstars who do not have a Tadashi favorite in their walk-in closets.
His styles please the gamut of classy women from country blues singer Bonnie Raitt to President Bush’s national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, from Oscar-winner Halle Berry to Celtic goddess Catherine Zeta-Jones, from Queen Latifah to the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Queen and her Court.
Tadashi’s association with the Tournament of Roses began more than a decade ago when Nordstrom, as sponsor, asked three designers to submit a dress design for the Rose Court. A committee selected Tadashi’s design from among those, and he continued to create gowns for the Rose Queen and her Court for several years.
During Macy’s time as sponsor, Jessica McClintock took on the job. However, last year Tadashi was asked to return as the official designer.
Since Pasadena is both his home and that of the Tournament of Roses, Tadashi could not have been more pleased as he told the story of this year’s lovely gowns. One might call it a fitting outcome.
For his Rose Court gowns, Tadashi always includes a hidden artistic salute to the flower somewhere in the design, some characteristic of the rose.
“Even if nobody else notices,’’ he said, “I know it’s there.’’
This year’s homage is to the pattern of overlapping petals in each blossom, achieved in the gowns by diagonal tiers of overlapping bias-cut satin pleats that begin around the shoulders and visually ripple all the way to the floor.
The pleats are strategically attached to a stretch-net underlining that enables them to move independently and comfortably. The bias cut, as well, creates stretch for comfort. Who says queens and princesses have to suffer to be beautiful?
The Rose Queen’s dress is white with rhinestone embellishment around the neckline. The princesses’ dresses are of a similar design, but unembellished to let their rich red show itself to best advantage, a color that brings to mind the exquisite “Mr. Lincoln’’ rose.
These days, Tadashi makes custom couture gowns only for a fortunate few, but his designs are more widely available than ever, not only in boutiques but also in high-end department stores like Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and their counterparts in other lands. He anticipates the opening of his first signature store in Southern California’s South Coast Plaza in 2004.