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September 27, 2007

The Japanese Secret for Winning Miss Universe

Hint: Look less Japanese

Miss Universe, Riyo Mori

Miss Universe, Riyo Mori

Photo Credit: L. Acosta/AFP/Getty Images

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When Ines Ligron was hired by Donald Trump 10 years ago to pull Japan out of its Miss Universe slump (the country hadn't spawned a winner in 48 years), she jumped at the chance. A former IMG modeling-agency promoter, French-born Ligron trained the Japanese contestants to adopt typically Western practices like sitting up straight, making eye contact, and tanning.

Part of her program is even spent emulating the body language and pronunciation of characters from shows like Sex and the City. "Japanese culture places an emphasis on blending in and thinking like a group," says Ligron. "I teach them to stand out, be different, and show their personality."

This year, the well-trained 20-year-old Riyo Mori snagged the title. But instead of praise, the media focused on her failure to represent Japanese culture, which advocates being cute, pale, and submissive. Ligron, however, doesn't care: "My market is young, cool, hip, fashionable people. You cannot please everyone." She adds, "I have a lot of women supporters — my enemies are men. They are afraid of powerful women."

2007 Miss Universe Riyo Mori is a statuesque five feet nine inches and speaks fluent English.

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