It all started in an intensely competitive household in Kishiwada, Osaka Prefecture, in the 1950s.
Ayako Koshino's husband had died of illness at the front line during World War II and she was faced with the daunting task of trying to run a clothing store single-handed, while raising three daughters: Hiroko, Junko and Michiko.
Her policy, recalls Hiroko, was to get her daughters to "compete with one another to stir up a sense of rivalry."
"I think that is how our different styles emerged―elegant for me, avant-garde for Junko and sporty for Michiko," she says.
Hiroko, Junko and Michiko Koshino grew up to become world-famous names in the fashion industry and will feature in a drama series about their mother's life (1913-2006) to be aired by Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) from October.
In real life, the sisters, now industry veterans, are still forging ahead. In July, 74-year-old Hiroko opened an exhibition in Paris of her paintings and the clothes they inspired.
"The show is more of an art-related activity than an effort to sell clothes. It also adds to the depth of design behind my ready-to-wear line," says the designer.
She says her designs have roots in traditional Japanese arts such as Kabuki, "bunraku," "nagauta" and samisen playing, which she saw as a child with her grandfather.
Hiroko initially wanted to become a painter, reacting against expectations that she would follow in her mother's footsteps. But design drawings by illustrator Junichi Nakamura opened her eyes to her mother's world. She says she realized that "dressmaking is not only about sewing, it can be expressed through pictures."
While studying at Bunka Fashion College in Tokyo, she turned her attention overseas after meeting Pierre Cardin and, in 1978, she made her debut in Rome. She went on to take part in the Paris Collection.
Her elegant style often blends Japanese influences with Western designs. For instance, one dress features a golden pine tree set on black, while another comes with a robe resembling an "uchikake" kimono coat.
Junko Koshino, 72, is known for her bold, structural designs and has often been characterized as an avant-garde designer. As a child, she favored after-school lessons in Western disciplines such as ballet, but was also a bit of a tomboy, with a penchant for pulling the floats during the local Danjiri Festival.
As a senior high school student, she was good at oil painting and wanted to get into an art university. In the end, though, she headed for the Bunka Fashion College, like her elder sister, and, while studying there, won the So-en Award, a well-known passport into a career in fashion.
She frequented jazz cafes in Tokyo's Shinjuku district and began designing costumes for rock bands involved in the "group sounds" scene. She opened a boutique called Colette in Tokyo's Aoyama. Her clientele included lyricist Kazumi Yasui and Misa Watanabe, founder of Watanabe Productions.
"To me, music and fashion are one," she once said. In 1978, she chose Chinese folk music to accompany her first Paris Collection show and has since developed strong ties with China, where she held a show in 1985. She also organized a show in Cuba, featuring local professional dancers.
The third sister, 68-year-old Michiko Koshino, is known for her sporty, casual style, and has been living in London since 1973. Her clothes were a fixture on London catwalks between 1980 and 2006.
She was an accomplished tennis player as a child and did not attend a fashion school. Instead, she studied sewing and design under her mother.
"Since I used to play in her workshop all the time, I didn't feel dressmaking was difficult at all," says Michiko.
To Michiko, her mother was "a person who concentrated on making women happy through clothes by turning out fresh and easy-to-wear items."
She decided to move to London because of its vibrant music scene and because she wanted to get away from her sisters' connections and secure her own territory. She regards her sisters as business mentors rather than rival designers.
She says: "I'm always thinking of doing something different from them."
Recently, she created a new line of resort wear and held a show on the Spanish island of Ibiza. She will launch a cosmetic brand in Japan in the fall.
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