Los Angeles-based Japanese designer Tadashi Shoji has mastered the motions of a runway show.
We caught up with him on the morning of Rustan’s 65th Anniversary Ball. Shoji was in Manila to present his complete fall collection, and stage rehearsals were ongoing to ensure that the show would run smoothly. Shoji, who was to be seated beside SSI chairman and CEO Zenaida Tantoco during the program, was ironing out all the creases. He stood before the stage, making comments to those next to him—the production director and the small army of personnel that flew in with him.
Tadashi Shoji giving comments during the dress rehearsal.
The opening look at the Rustan's anniversary ball
For a seasoned designer who regularly experiences the intensity of New York Fashion Week, Shoji obviously knew what he wanted. He called out models who had spun too early, pointed out too long hemlines, and commented on finale blockings.
T&C sat with him after the rehearsal.
“In New York, we do hair and makeup tests two nights before the show,” he says. “During rehearsals, we check everything from the lighting to make sure the models aren’t too pale, to the clothes in case we have to alter them last minute.”
Shoji likes to be on top of every detail way before the show. For the Rustan’s anniversary show, in particular, the concern was the fit of the evening gowns, since most of the fall/winter pieces came straight from the department store and were not in model size.
The dress line-up backstage
To Shoji, unexpected hitches make the preparations more exciting. He explains that since his studios are located in Shanghai and Los Angeles, all the gowns are prepared before heading to New York. “I arrive 10 days before the show and cast for two days. From there, 18 to 19 girls are chosen and fitted,” he says. “Some girls cancel the night before or the morning of a show and then we have to look for a new girl. I don’t panic but the casting director panics. We fit the new girl and it always works out."
Those who’ve worked with other companies before moving to Tadashi Shoji are amazed by his collected nature. He admits he runs the line very differently from other designers. “In some other companies, they still sew in the car on the way to a show. We don’t do that. We finish at 7:30 or 8 o’clock [the day before] and all go out to dinner.”
Tadashi Shoji present his fall/winter collection, which is available in Manila at Rustan's
Right after the show, Shoji prefers to fly away from the hustle and bustle of New York as quickly as possible and retreat to his apartment in Pasadena, just outside of Los Angeles, or to his place in Shanghai.
Back in L.A., the company works with both an in-house and external public relations team to dress personalities. Shoji says he’s always the last to know when a star wears his designs. “The stylist picks up the dresses and it’s only until just before the red carpet or just before a shoot that they choose what to wear. My PR person doesn’t tell me anything because if the star chooses not to wear it, I might get disappointed,” he says.
While Shoji's clients includes the likes of former U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama, Shoji’s timeless designs also appeal to younger and up-and-coming celebrities, whom he admittedly doesn’t always recognize.
"My younger staff members tell me who they are and what movie they star in and I check from there. It’s the same in China. I’m most familiar with popular names like Fan BingBing or Li BingBing.” Despite this, Shoji has always ensured the happiness of his clients. He understands a woman’s body and the importance of a perfect fit. An article in People magazine talks about how Shoji dressed actress Octavia Spencer for the Academy Awards when no one else would. “My mission is to make women happy,” he says. “From the start, I wanted my dresses to be comfortable, accessible, and beautiful.”
Shoji looks forward to catering to more women than ever with the introduction of plus-size dresses. The team uses three different fit models for its dresses. For the smaller women, there’s petite sizing, while regular dresses range from size 0 to 16 and the Queen size, which goes beyond 16. Not all stores will carry the Queen size but all the sizes will be available on his website.
Shoji receives flowers from Nedy Tantoco and Tokie Tantoco Enriquez of the Rustan Group after the show.
Shoji continues to diversify his brand, officially launching his bridal line last year and introducing shapewear. He’s cleverly producing dresses for little girls, scaling down his signature embroidery to fit their smaller frames. He excitedly tells us the brand is releasing fragrances and leather products. And it recently opened a fifth standalone store, with two more scheduled to open in Texas next year.