Of Another Fashion

An alternative archive of the not-quite-hidden but too often ignored fashion histories of U.S. women of color

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The Japanese American fashion designer Sadohara (L) is seen here with two models at a fashion show in the Statler Hotel, Los Angeles, California (13 September 1956). The woman on the far right is the designer Riye Yoshizawa (see here and here) who helped open the Modern School of Fashion.

Photograph by Toyo Miyatake, from the Rafu Shimpo collection at the Japanese American National Museum.

This is fashion designer Kow Kaneko (seated) with clients, Mrs. Conrad Troll and Mrs. Alfred Esberg in Pasadena, California (2 December 1958). Although Kaneko had her own shop in Pasadena, this photograph shows her in Troll’s living room. (Photo credit: Rafu Shimpo Collection, Japanese American National Museum)

There’s precious little information about Kaneko, who was a well-respected couturier in the 1950s and 1960s. What I do know is cobbled together from court documents from a 14 August 1967 Visa Petition Proceedings for a Japanese designer only named as Sonegawa, who Kaneko was hoping to hire. What follows are drawn directly from these documents:

Petitioner has been in business in a competitive field for over 11 years. There is no evidence that she will not continue in business for many more years. The fact that she is seeking the services of an oriental clothes designer is in itself evidence that she plans to continue in the business … Petitioner states that with the addition of an authentic oriental designer from Japan she will substantially increase her business not only in the actual number of clients but also to the type of customer who is willing to pay a higher price for authentic Japanese designs and patterns.

Kow Kaneko began her fashion career doing free lance designing for Saks Fifth Avenue, Marshall Fields and Bullock’s Wilshire, but now devotes herself exclusively to her custom studio in Pasadena (606 Colorado Blvd.).

She presented evidence in the form of a scrapbook showing that she is well known for her designs and fashions and outstanding in her field. Time and Look magazines have published full colored pages of her creations as has the Fashion Service Review as well as numerous other fashion magazines. Petitioner has made most of the gowns for the Miss Universe of the Long Beach beauty pageant. She has as clients movie actresses and society matrons. Her clients have been included in the lists of the best dressed California women. Petitioner makes numerous appearances at design and fashion shows throughout the United States lecturing on fabric, design and techniques. She also lectures at colleges and universities in California and at home economic institutes on these subjects. She received fees for the appearances which are not included in the income of her store. Her reputation as a fashion designer and couturiere makes her in demand.

**I plan to look for the magazines in which her fashions were photographed but if anyone has leads regarding the year and issue of the magazines, I’d appreciate help!

Riye Yoshizawa is pictured here in her dressmaking class in the Manzanar internment camp. After the war, she would go on to help open the Modern School of Fashion in Southern California. (The photo was taken by Ansel Adams in 1943).

My rather extensive education in Asian American history (resulting in a PhD) never included the role of fashion and dressmaking in Japanese internment camps. These images (and several others that will be posted in the coming weeks) provide incredible insight into the relationships among fashion and war, Asian Americans and U.S. popular culture, and Asian American women’s popular culture and labor histories.

From the Library of Congress.

Students in Riye Yoshizawa’s dressmaking class at Manzanar internment camp pore over Vogue magazines for ideas and inspiration. Manzanar was one of ten “relocation centers” at which Japanese American citizens and residents aliens were interned during World War II.

This photograph was taken by Ansel Adams whose friend, Ralph Merritt, was the director of the Manzanar internment camp. Although cameras were considered contraband for internees, white American photographers like Adams and Dorothea Lange (whose photographs of camp life were commissioned and then confiscated by the War Relocation Authority) were allowed to photograph internees. A collection of Adams’ photographs were published in a book called, Born Free and Equal (1944).

From the Library of Congress.

Elizabeth Keckley, a former slave, dressmaker, designer, and author of Behind the Scenes: Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House (1868). In the book, condemned by some as an “indecent” exposé by “a traitorous eavesdropper,” she discusses her life as a slave and her eventual freedom and friendship with Mary Todd Lincoln, for whom she served as exclusive dressmaker. Keckley not only bought her own freedom, she opened a successful dressmaking business in Washington D.C.