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Renowned fashion designer applies Okinawan touch

By: By Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2011-08-12

Mitsuko Yamauchi is one of the Japan’s leading fashion designers, and she’s built her successful 42-year career around promoting her much loved Okinawa.

Now in her 40th year with Madonna Fashions, her personal fashion label, Yamauchi has a worldwide following for her distinctly identifiable bingata clothes, scarves, handbags and even umbrellas designed around Okinawa’s vibrant colors. The winner of dozens of international competitions and awards over the years, she demurely says she’s still “much to learn; I’m learning all the time” about how to better please her clientele. The Osaka native, who moved to Okinawa as a child, got caught up in design while in the third grade; by the fifth grade she was creating her own products—dresses for fellow students—made from parachute fabric.

“The post World War II years were hard,” she recalls, explaining “we used discarded American uniforms to make clothes.” Her talents were recognized and she graduated from six schools in seven years, “earning money for my poor family.” She’s tallied well over three dozen international awards over the past three decades, including recognition from the All Japan Designer Association. Success has been good to Yamauchi; she opened a new Fashion Room Madonna last November, and is preparing for a September 4th fashion show at the National Theater in Urasoe City.

That show will key on her Okinawan colors, use five professional models, and also guests and 20 of their grandchildren as models of original fashions. Just about everything Mitsuko Yamauchi produces is original. “I have no idea how many original designs I’ve made over the years,” she says, but believes it to be “in the tens of thousands”. Her trademark is the butterfly, which she delicately inserts into each and every design. “Sometimes you have to look,” she says, “because it isn’t always obvious.”

The 63-year-old designer’s favorites are “simple, and for the individual.” In every case, she says, she wants her styles to “have a purpose and a use, and fit today’s lifestyle.” She says she loves designing clothes for clients “from all over Japan.” Her talents are applied to everything from wedding gowns and suits—a field she pioneered decades ago—to custom dresses, Kariyushi wear, scarves and blouses created with her own handmade fabrics died to individual customer specifications.

What she designs “depends on my mood,” and is “spontaneous, with my decisions coming after talking to people.” The 63-year-old designer, who uses many bingata designs created by her artist husband, says she’ll “never retire” because she’s still “so many new designs I’ve not finished yet.” She infuses European traditions and styles into her distinctly Okinawan works, though, largely an offshoot of her studies in Paris beginning in 1994.

The Costs
Quality and beauty are evident in every fabric, design and stitch. Obviously, it isn’t Wal-Mart. At the same time, the Yamauchi designs rank alongside Yves Saint Laurent, Giorgio Armani, Louis Vuitton, Ralph Lauren, and Antonio Berardi. Visitors can leisurely browse the Fashion House Madonna, making selections that fit both taste and budget. Every Yamauchi garment is special; no two are alike, giving the discerning lady –or man, for that matter—a stunning shirt, blouse, skirt, dress or gown that nobody can match.

Custom designed clothing typically ranges from ¥28,000~¥58,000, with prices soaring to ¥1,000,000 for a professional television performer or singer’s gown. Fabric, design, cut and set all impact the prices. Rack line clothing is all Yamauchi originals, with even a given fabric or design in Limited Edition. Prices range from ¥28,000 to ¥150,000.

The Young Culture Line ranges from ¥10,000~25,000, with a few special items tipping the register higher. Karayushi wear prices vary based on material, with some as low as ¥8,000, then progressing up to ¥100,000 for the finesse handmade fabric. Wedding gowns are ¥150,000, on average, although the bride-to-be has lots of choices that can push that price up with accessories.

Getting There
Fashion House Madonna is easy to get to. From the bases, take the Expressway to Exit 1, proceed south on Highway 82 to 329. Turn right toward downtown Naha. About four kilometers along look for the Kohagura, Tsubogawa and Yogi Park signs. Turn right and be prepared for the first traffic light. As you are making the turn, you’ll see Madonna signs and the parking lot.

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