Life-size origami horse heads are housed in a shoji-screen stable. (Photo by J.K. Yamamoto/Rafu Shimpo)

By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer

San Francisco-based origami artist Linda Mihara, who has displayed her works across the country and overseas, ventured into new territory this past week: Rodeo Drive.

She was chosen to do this year’s holiday window displays at the Hermès stores in Beverly Hills as well as San Francisco’s Union Square.

Her involvement in the World Tree of Hope led to her latest assignment. Each year, members of the Japanese American and LGBT communities collaborate in decorating a huge Christmas tree at San Francisco City Hall with origami cranes containing wishes sent from around the world. A friend who worked on that project recommended Mihara to a friend at Hermès.

Flying origami horses carry scarves and neckties. (Photo by J.K. Yamamoto/Rafu Shimpo)

“Next thing you know, they contacted me,” she said while putting up the display on Wednesday night. “I had a couple of meetings with them, and they said … ‘What are some of your ideas? We’re interested to know what you would do if you were given the design concept.’”

Mihara was inspired by the company’s logo, a horse and carriage. Founded in 1837, the fashion house was originally known for its saddles, harnesses and other equestrian equipment. “I built a whole story around horses and Pegasus … I thought it would be kind of neat to have them flying, maybe some holding scarves … and then we did it all in white to make it look more serene,” she said.

“They wanted it to look festive but not holiday. So there’s no glitz, there’s no foil, and they have these panels actually made for the windows, they were shoji-inspired to give it the whole look, which is really great.”

There are also life-size talking horse heads. She explained, “I had this concept where they’re having a conversation behind a barn door, just like ‘Oh, I like the hat you’re wearing.’ ‘Oh, I like the scarf you’re wearing.’ Because they also appreciate a sense of wit and play. They want it to be really fun and not serious, not static. They had these barn doors built for that, and then I did the rest, did all the folding.”

Her designs for the San Francisco store are basically the same except for a corner window that has “a full-size horse that’s 6-foot-3 and it’s actually got a saddle on it, and there’s some origami modulars in the front.”

A standing horse with modular origami and Hermès gift items. (Photo by J.K. Yamamoto/Rafu Shimpo)

Mihara said this project required a lot of preparation. “The actual folding was over the course of two months. I rented a studio just for it because I went through 12 rolls of paper, each one’s like 35 feet long, and I used every single bit of it, too. To make the large horse for the San Francisco store, I had to piece together the paper to make two nine-foot squares. It’s a two-piece horse. So I needed a lot of space … Storing everything too was a big challenge.”

Being told, “We want to see what you come up with” made it a dream job for Mihara. “As an artist, you never hear of that. They never let the artist go hog wild, so to speak, so it’s been a really great design thing for me … In particular, when I do things for commercials, they’re very specific and I understand that. But this from concept to creation was all my doing … They just let me do my thing.”

Mihara and fellow origami artist Robert Lang worked on a 2006 Mitsubishi commercial in which a car drives through a world where everything is made of origami — the animals, the houses, the trees, and even a bridge.

Her first experience doing windows for a high-end store was more than a decade ago for Saks Fifth Avenue. “Mary McFadden, the designer, got the inspiration for that particular collection … from the Japanese noh theater, so they thought, ‘We were thinking maybe you could do some origami cranes or something in the background.’ So that was the first window that I did. This is the second one. I hope to do more.”

Since her designs were well-received at Hermès’ head office in Paris, she added, “It would be nice to do the Paris windows someday.”

The Beverly Hills window displays (434 N. Rodeo Dr.) will come down the first week of January, while the San Francisco displays (Grant and Maiden Lane) will be up until the middle or end of January.

Linda Mihara (Photo by J.K. Yamamoto/Rafu Shimpo)

Mihara will return to Southern California next year as one of the featured artists in an exhibition at the Japanese American National Museum, “Folding Paper: The Infinite Possibilities of Origami,” which will run from March 10 to Aug. 26.

Her sister, Vicky Mihara Avery, was at JANM’s Target Free Family Saturday this past weekend to give origami and gift-wrapping workshops. She was first runner-up in the Scotch Brand Most Gifted Wrapper Contest in 2007 and appeared on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

The sisters have done origami displays and demonstrations at many annual events, including the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival. Their parents, Nob and Shiz Mihara, own Paper Tree, a San Francisco Japantown stationery store where origami is displayed and origami books and paper are sold.

Mr. and Mrs. Mihara were honored for their contributions earlier this year by the San Francisco JACL. They were unable to attend due to illness, but the sisters accepted on their behalf. Linda Mihara noted that the family has been part of the Japantown community for 100 years.

For other examples of Mihara’s work, including an origami vest and dress and various 1,000-crane designs, visit

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  1. So happy to see this today! Beautiful work.

    Hermès has a fine history of spectacular origami window displays, with a particularly memorable, beautiful one by fellow origami artists Michael LaFosse and Richard Alexander some years ago at the New York shop. The Hermès company has even, on occasion, depicted origami on their products. I once saw a lovely blue silk Hermès tie with a pattern of tiny pajaritas (little origami birds from Spain). A friend in Japan had donated the vintage tie for a charity auction.

    The Miharas are indeed gifted, versatile origami artists and wonderful, professional people to work with. I had the opportunity to see a long, full-size, wearable origami dress, made by Linda Mihara, on display in San Francisco when I was there a couple of years ago.

    I hope to continue being happily caught by surprise by Hermès and origami! You made my morning. Thanks to Chris Lott, who pointed me to this article.