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Renowned fashion designer applies Okinawan touch

By: Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2005-03-11

The Midas touch began while attending elementary school in Naha, then spread first across Okinawa, then Japan, then to Paris.

Mitsuko Yamauchi is one of the Orient’s best, and ranks high on the European fashion design circuits too. In Okinawa, she’s operated Fashion Room Madonna for 35 busy years. Ladies of all ages, shapes and sizes flock to Madonna, where they can indulge in a variety of custom designed fashions.

“I have no idea how many original designs I’ve made over the years,” says Yamauchi. “It numbers well into the tens of thousands.” Her trademark is the butterfly, which she proudly points out is delicately inserted into each and every design. “Sometimes you have to look,” she adds, “because it isn’t always obvious.

The 58-year-old entrepreneur welcomes foreigners to her Fashion House Madonna, where she has a skilled assistant who speaks English just to make everything smooth and easy. Madonna’s unique designs, most of which pack a uniquely Okinawa flavor, are worn by everyone from local officials to world leaders participating in the 2000 G-8 Summit. Her husband is an artist; he is instrumental in many of the bingata designs.

Born in Osaka, Yamauchi moved to Okinawa as a child. Her interest in design started in third grade, and by the fifth she was cranking out her first products—dresses for fellow students--made from parachute fabric. “The post World War II years were hard,” Yamauchi recalls. “We used discarded American uniforms to make clothes, and costumes for singers and dancers performing at base and VFW clubs.”

She honed her talents and skills as she went, graduating from six schools in seven years “so I could earn money for my poor family.” In 1968 she moved into wedding dress design, a market she’s dominated throughout the years. Yamauchi has captured 36 international competition awards in 30 years, including those from the All Japan Designer Association.

Two years in Paris expanded horizons further, and led to her transforming designs to her own handmade fabrics dyed to individual customer color specifications. The trip around the world spawned from winning 1st Prize in a competition; the objective was to study integrating Okinawa style and bingata in the world fashion scene.

Five fashion lines make up Fashion House Madonna: (1) Custom designed and measured apparel, (2) Rack lines, although each is a one-of-a-kind original in standard sizes, (3) A Young Culture Line, (4) Okinawa’s traditional Karayushi wear, and (5) wedding gowns and dresses.

Daughter Kanna, 31, heads the Young Culture Division. It specializes in clothes and shoes for the young professional set. Kanna, a designer in her own time, is also internationally schooled, and has won her own awards across Japan.

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 signer’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 and 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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