OVER twenty years ago, several Japanese designers like Issey Miyake, Kenzo, Hanae Mori and Rei Kawakubo invaded the Paris runways and left an indelible impression - and influence - on French and Western fashion. These days, it's virtually impossible for young Western designers to create new designs without incorporating Kawakubo's anti-fashion, deconstructed grey garments or Mori's pro-fashion, well-constructed colorful silk chiffon gowns. While Japanese haute couture was all the rage in the West, the Japanese beauty pageant industry was languishing. No Miss Japan had been placing in Miss Universe finals since 1988, and the quality of Japanese delegates was not on par with the quality of delegates from Venezuela, and later in 1990s, from India. If Japan wishes to continue her presence in the universal sphere of beauty, then she must act quickly to revamp her image or commit hara-kiri.
If French fashion needed a glob of Japanese green mustard to make it more copacetic, Japanese pageantry could certainly drink from a bottle of crème de menthe to revive its competitive juices. Enter a Frenchwoman named Inés Ligron. Since Ligron took over the Miss Universe Japan organization in 1998, Japanese pageantry has been experiencing a resurgence and Japanese beauties are once again getting a well-deserved recognition which is remiscent of their glory years between the 1950s and the 1970s. Under Ligron's helm, Japanese representatives to the Miss Universe pageant could be just as bold, beautiful and sexy as their Latin or American counterparts. The traditional kimono as national costume has now been replaced by samurai chic, and modest Hanae Mori silk chiffon gowns have been shelved to give way to immodest Roberto Cavalli two-piece evening wear. Monolingual sedentary Japanese queens are things of the past; now, they speak at least two languages, pose many hours for fashion shoots, and travel the world promoting their sponsors. All because of Ligron. Critical Beauty is honored to acquaint our readers with this remarkable French beauty queen maker.
Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
It is always easier to start an interview talking about someone else than yourself! I would say that I am passionate about style, fashion and art. I am a creative person and very allergic to ugliness. My special talent is to be able to see beauty through people at first sight. People would walk next to someone very unique without noticing her or him, but I have the eye to see right away the potential beauty in a person, and most importantly I know how to develop someone's best attribute to make her unique.
My work initially is to "sell" top celebrities into the Japanese market for big time endorsement deals. I have a portfolio of clients/companies in Japan who need famous stars to promote their products. My role is to introduce the right face or personality for them. Among those are Beyoncé, Penelope Cruz, Carolyn Murphy, Maria Sharaprova, Sarah Jessica Parker. It is fun to get to know them personally and I always learn something unique from them. They are all real people when you share a few days with them, some are nicer and more sincere than others, but it is indeed a very interesting work.
Also when I was asked to implement the competition for Miss Universe in Japan, I was excited but it was challenging at the same time, because I was not even living in Japan at the time but in Hong Kong! I look back now and I think I was really crazy to even try!
How did you get interested in pageants?
It took me 5 years to really enjoy it. Before it was mostly a heavy burden because I had to revive the entire thing since it had a very bad reputation in Japan where I started back in 1998. So many people told me that I should forget about it, that it would dissatisfy me, but I wanted to prove them wrong. Gucci was dead years ago and it took one good creative director, Tom Ford, to revive the company and put it on top again.
I guess Miyako Miyazaki in 2003 revived the interest in Miss Universe in Japan after placing top 5. Then Kurara really put it back to stardom after her success in Los Angeles last year.
Before you became involved with beauty pageants, did you have any preconceived notions about pageants or beauty queens?
To be honest, yes I did.
What does your family think about your involvement in beauty pageants? Would you encourage your children to enter a pageant?
They think it is great. I would encourage my daughter to enter a pageant only it is was run by a woman.
What is the most challenging aspect of preparing a candidate for a pageant?
I think that in a country like Japan it is to make my delegate truly understand that in less than three months after winning the national competition, she will be living in New York together with Miss USA. Without believing that you can win there is no way to be number one in a competition as challenging as Miss Universe. It is truly a mental preparation.
You yourself are a beautiful woman. Do you have any beauty secrets?
Being in love. I adore my husband, I believe this is what makes me attractive.
You are also a fashionable and stylish woman. How would you define your style?
I love this interview! It's very flattering! I like mixing different designers together, expensive with bargains. It has to be comfortable, but different. What matters is the attitude that you wear with your clothes.
After having lived in Japanese for several years, do you feel that you have assimilated well in Japanese society, or do you still feel that you're a foreigner?
I love Japan, there is always something happening, mostly because I work in fashion. Japanese people are very nice and make you feel home always. I really respect their culture and sincerely thanks them for hosting me since the past 9 years.
|LEFT: WITH RIYO MORI RIGHT: WITH KURARA CHIBANA|
Who is your favorite Miss Japan so far and why?
My favorite Miss Japans so far are Kurara and Riyo. Kurara is an amazing young woman and I have a lot of affection for her. She trusts me and this is very unique in a world where people turn their back on you after they succeed. And, Riyo because of her focus, her personality, she is very bubbling, a smart girl with an incredible body and because I can see that she will win in Mexico. She is really strong, believe me!
We know that Japanese women are beautiful. What about Japanese men? Why don't we see Japanese men competing in male beauty pageants? The Mister International 2006 pageant took place in Singapore last October 7th, and we didn't see a Mister Japan. Would you consider acquiring the Japanese franchise for Mister International and send a Japanese hunk next year?
Young guys in Japan are really stylish and they are fun as well. I would love to implement the Mister International competition in another life, because I am way too busy right now!
Who are more stylish? French women or Japanese women?
They have completely different styles that cannot be compared. I love both styles actually.
If you were to create a new female beauty pageant, how you would make it different from traditional pageants?
I already did. I know it must sound arrogant but this is what I think.
Which person do you admire and why?
I admire many people, not only one person. Also I cannot answer this question because it would take me forever.
Happiness to me is being healthy, being in love, having best friends, healthy children, loving your job, having a goal in life.
What was the most embarrassing thing you've done in public so far and how did you handle it?
I do silly things all the time, this is what I am famous for! Ask my staff and they will tell you! I handle it quite easily because I laugh at myself. I have no ego.
What do you do to relax or relieve stress?
Having shiatsu massages, going to onsen (Japanese hot bath) and reading or listening to music. I love to have "girls talk" seated in comfortable sofas with a glass of wine.
What one question would you like people to ask you and what would you respond?
Who do you think will be Riyo's strongest competitors in Miss Universe? Up to now, Venezuela and USA this year.
- Perfume - COCO Mademoiselle
- Flower - Hawaiian flower called pikake
- Color - pure white
- Cuisine - Japanese Yakitori (chicken in all forms)
- Music - anything, but mostly hip-hop
- Book - anything related to autism to help my little son recover
- Author - L'Etranger by Albert Camus. And also La Nausée by Jean-Paul Sartre
- Designer - Alexander McQueen & Roberto Cavalli
- Quote - Luck is where opportunity meets preparation
- Philosopher - my grandfather
Interview by Rafael Robert Delfin
PHOTO CREDITS: Miss Universe Japan Organization, Chanel