In 1992, Naoko Takeuchi immortalized the Palladio dress in her then-early manga Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon. It was a bold move, as contemporary as it was timeless; the dress would have been sent down the runway just months before it was published in the manga. In Sailor Moon, the Palladio dress materializes as if a mirage during the most climactic moments for the princess of the moon, Usagi – the heroine named for the Japanese fable of the rabbit (usagi translating to “rabbit”) in the moon.
If not for this appropriation, the Palladio dress would have been destined for relative obscurity. It wasn’t remotely the dress célébrée of the Spring 1992 couture collection – that would be the billowing floral ball gown with which Christy Turlington closed the show. As far as I can tell, the only time it was photographed, perhaps even worn, on a human body was during the couture show at which it debuted; it isn’t featured in any editorials or advertisements from that year. Yet considering that over 35 million Sailor Moon manga volumes have been sold worldwide – to say nothing of the even more well known anime series – it is one of the most iconic couture dresses of all time.
“The design of a dress, furniture, a house, a room, a street and a city are all the same process.”
Ferré’s literalism – at best nostalgic and sentimental, at worst patently nerdy – was a quality for which Ferré was often criticized. André Leon Talley remarked that critics of Ferré’s work found his couture as “simply too much, like one extra spoonful of a sublime soufflé.” But while this might have made him an outsider in the French couture circuit, his dress fit perfectly into the confection-colored Sailor Moon story.
But it would be presumptuous to say Takeuchi chose this dress as the embodiment of values of femininity as motherhood or youth. Indeed, Usagi is certainly more than the sum of just these parts – she is also a video gamer, a soldier, a friend, and a lover. Lover – this is important because Usagi’s sexuality was always important to the series. Although Usagi appears in the story in various states of disrobement, it isn’t until after the publication of the series that Takeuchi drew Usagi in front-facing nudity. The Palladio dress, though firmly rooted in bygone eras, also expressed quintessentially 90s sensibilities, resembling the slip dresses and negligées that became so popular as day wear during the decade. Though Takeuchi never drew Usagi naked until after Sailor Moon’s publication, she illustrated Serenity’s dress with a sheer skirt. Takeuchi’s adaptation of the dress hinted at Usagi’s budding sexuality, particularly in scenes where she’s drawn with Prince Endymion (more popularly known as Tuxedo Mask).
In Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon, Naoko Takeuchi laid forth a manifesto of beauty. In fact, not unlike Ferré, Takeuchi’s vision of unbridled fantasy was often a point of contention with her editors. But despite pushback, Takeuchi persevered: “I thought,
’I’m going to show these old grandpas that beautiful girl characters can be good for business, and I’m not leaving my concept in the hands of old men.’ So I had to work hard to develop a sense of beauty and elegance in my characters, no matter what their type was.”
Fashion figured heavily into her philosophy of beauty. A well-known fan of couture who also sewed in her spare time, Takeuchi’s obsession with fashion is apparent in Sailor Moon, and Dior’s Palladio dress was not the only dress she borrowed from the runway. She famously used dresses, contemporary advertisements, and fashion editorials, from Thierry Mugler to Chanel, in her artwork. Takeuchi even would send in her original drawings for the manga with beads and lace attached.