Fashion Show to Feature Two Premier Nikkei Designers

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Janet Kaneko with some of her stylish creations.

Continuing the celebration of the 77th Nisei Week Japanese Festival, the Nikkei Women Legacy Association will host the Nisei Week Fashion Event on Saturday, Sept. 16.

The event will highlight the career of fashion designer Iris Teragawa, with a retrospective tribute of her work as well as showcase one-of-a-kind pieces created by fashion designer Janet Kaneko.

It is hard to believe that 85-year-old Teragawa’s expansive career began as a mere hobby. Shortly after marrying in 1955, Iris and Bob Teragawa relocated from Los Angeles to Boston, where Bob attended graduate school at MIT. Searching for ways to keep herself busy, Iris enrolled at the Modern School of Fashion and Design and took a job sewing wedding and bridesmaids’ dresses for a high-end bridal boutique, Priscilla of Boston.

“I just loved everything about it. I got all dolled up every day, so of course, I stood out working in the factory. Priscilla was this glamorous woman and she took to me and I took to her,” Teragawa fondly recalled.

After three years of honing her skills in Boston, the couple moved back to California. Teragawa turned the front room of her Monterey Park residence into a workroom, making clothes for a small group of clients, but her popularity quickly grew.

“When you’re young, you don’t look around and worry about anything. If you have a passion for something, you just do it,” explained Teragawa.

Iris Teragawa (left) with France Yanai Wong of Nikkei Women Legacy Association.

Teragawa went on to open her own store on Doheny Drive in West Hollywood, and enjoy a fruitful career spanning almost five decades, dressing the likes of former First Lady Nancy Reagan and actresses such as Barbara Bel Geddes of the popular television series “Dallas.”

“I was really lucky,” Teragawa said. “I think it’s just amazing how things happened and how people wanted to buy my clothes.”

Similar to Teragawa, Kaneko did not set out to pursue a career in fashion. But her journey began after discovering a trunk filled with her mother’s vintage kimonos.

Iris Teragawa opened a boutique in West Hollywood, where her clients included celebrities like former First Lady Nancy Reagan.

She explained, “I would open that trunk and look at them and I knew I needed to do something with them.”

Fascinated by their beauty and workmanship, Kaneko incorporated pieces from these kimonos to create intricate designs of her own. Soon, she was collecting vintage kimonos and art pieces from flea markets and antique stores to make unique items to sell to others, all while teaching full-time at Taft High School in Woodland Hills and raising two young children.

“I’d leave at 6 a.m. to go to work and come home, take care of the kids, then I’d stay up until 4 a.m. working,” she recalled. “I never got tired because this gave me energy.”

When the demand for Kaneko’s work became so great, she left her teaching job to focus on her fashion career, and opened her first studio in 1984 in West Hollywood. It was not long before Kaneko moved to a larger studio in Silver Lake in 1990 and gained success when luxury goods department stores such as Bergdorf Goodman began selling her coats and jackets.

“I never thought about money and it wasn’t about the fame,” she said. “I just loved it so much and I’m so lucky I get to do what I love so much.”

These two women did not seek to be top fashion designers, but achieved great success as a result of their dedication, hard work, and most of all, their passion and deep love for their craft.

The event will be held at Almansor Court, 700 S. Almansor St. in Alhambra, with boutique from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and luncheon and fashion show from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tickets: $65. For more information, visit www.nikkeiwomen.org.

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