Trailblazing Issey Miyake left an indelible mark on the global design landscape

Issey Miyake’s work and ideas transcend genres and continue to attract interest worldwide

Famed Japanese fashion designer Issey Miyake, the creator or the pleated style of clothing that never wrinkles, dies at 84. Miyake, whose name became a byword for Japan’s economic and fashion prowess in the 1980s, died on Aug. 5 of liver cancer, Kyodo news agency said, quoted by Reuters.

The trailblazing fashion designer, who passed away in Tokyo at age 84, left an indelible mark on the design scene.

Legendary Japanese fashion Issey Miyake’s “monozukuri” or way of making things is an ongoing quest via research and experimentation for new innovations that can be harnessed, free from existing conventions. Miyake’s goal was always to find new projects and people through which to harness the power of design to address the needs of people’s contemporary lifestyles.

@Issey Miyake on the @Time Magazine Asian Edition 27-Jan.1986 cover

Miyake has continually presented ideas that promote universality.

Miyake’s focus on a team-approach to design has promoted new Monozukuri by staff members from all generations. The philosophy is meant to address society, the times, and the environment. They consider individuals but also address a broad variety of people regardless of national and cultural backgrounds. Issey Miyake looked into the origins of mankind as a way to see new solutions for challenges that we face in our future. He continued to move forward with a belief that this philosophy is the solution to addressing the needs of the future.

“His sense for color was extraordinary, and it confidently pulsed through every collection. Very few did color with the confidence of Mr. Issey Miyake. And when the designer launched his playful Pleats Please line, he did so with the same sense of joy in innovation. His store, on the corner of Prince and Wooster in SoHo, featured special glasses with dizzying optical effects that were clear from some angles, distorted from others. They were brilliant, in every sense of the word.” wrote CFDA.

Born in Hiroshima, Issey Miyake first gained awareness of design from his encounter with two bridges designed by Isamu Noguchi in the city center named Ikiru (“to live”) and Shinu (“to die”) (1952; later renamed Tsukuru (“to build”) and Yuku (“to depart”). He realized that the power of design lay both in empowering people to look at as well as to be able to cross the bridges.

In 1960, Japan hosted the World Design Conference, for the first time. It was an international design symposium, whose aim was to promote interactions with the global design world. Miyake, who was studying at Tama Art University’s Department of Graphic Design, sent a letter to the Secretariat asking why clothing design was not included in the program. His focus upon clothing as design rather than fashion attracted attention. He subsequently started to design his own clothes and created clothing for Toyo Rayon’s (now, Toray Industries, Inc.) 1963 Calendar by request of art director Jo Murakoshi. This was his first collection. In 1963, after his graduation from University, he announced “Nuno to ishi no uta” (Poems of cloth and stone).

In 1965, Miyake traveled to Paris and worked as an assistant at two fashion houses. He witnessed the May 1968 riots, an event that inspired a determination to create clothing for “the many rather than for the few”. This idea has continued to influence Miyake’s monozukuri to the present time. The following year, he moved to New York. He gained experience in American ready-to-wear, but began to see the future potential of Japan, which was gaining momentum in many areas ahead of the Japan World Exposition, Osaka. In 1969, he returned to Japan.

@Issey Miyake Geometric Sunglasses 2022 Collection

@Issey Miyake 2022 products;

In 1970, Miyake established the Miyake Design Studio and participated in the TORAY KNIT EXHIBITION, presenting a group of clothing in pieces that could be mixed and matched to suit different occasions. In 1971, he participated in the New York Collection. With support from Didier Grumbach and Andree Putman, whom he met at this event, Miyake started presenting his collections in Paris starting in 1973.

From the outset, Miyake’s essential touchstone has been the concept of making clothing from “a Piece of Cloth.” His process explores the fundamental relationship between the body, the cloth that covers it, and the space and room that is created between these elements, divesting itself of the labels of “East” or “West”. Miyake’s creative process begins by studying a single thread and creating his material, which then leads to new clothing.

In the 1970s, Miyake’s study of and experimentation with new and existing techniques led to the creation of new fabrics, forms of clothing and technologies by which to make them. His studio was driven by a group mentality —the “we” rather than “I” and members such as textile designer Makiko Minagawa and others contributed to the development of a broad range of new materials, techniques, and design ideas.

@PLEATS PLEASE ISSEY-MIYAKE, 1993. Photo: @Phillippe Brazil

While learning to harness and refine some of the cutting-edge synthetic technologies of the time, Miyake also visited historic production regions and worked to revitalize traditional dyeing and production that were on the verge of extinction, finding new uses for traditional methods that could respond to modern needs. He received worldwide acclaim for trying to incorporate modern technology with traditional techniques that offered excellent functionality but were seen as outdated, such as sashiko embroidery and leg-guard gaiters.

Miyake has continued his evolutionary quest for new ways by which to create clothing from “a Piece of Cloth” by harnessing new techniques to the needs from daily life. An overview of his work during the 1970s and 1980s is available via in ISSEY MIYAKE : East Meets West, published in 1978 (Heibonsha).

It was the first monograph of a living fashion designer ever published. The book was comprised of a multitude of dynamic photographs and essays by artists from different mediums each of whom explored Miyake’s interpretations of “a Piece of Cloth”. Ikko Tanaka and Kazuko Koike were the art director and editors, respectively.

In the 1980s, Miyake furthered his exploration of the body’s motions and form, enthusiastically taking on the challenge of designing garments using materials other than cloth: plastic, paper, and wire. He called his creations from this period “Body Works.” The American art magazine Artforum featured a Rattan-vine Body created by Miyake on its February 1982 cover — the first time clothing had been featured on the cover of an art magazine.

@132-5.-ISSEY-MIYAKE, 2010. Photo: @Hiroshi Iwasaki

Meanwhile, during the same period, he also started work on a new type of clothing designed to adapt to the needs of an increasingly more modern and informal lifestyle. In 1981, he launched the brand Plantation, which offered clothing that could be worn regardless of gender, age, or body shape. The brand, which used mostly natural materials, featured simple loose designs that were also easy to care for and remains popular to this day among fans. ISSEY MIYAKE PERMANENTE, which was launched in 1985, revived original shapes and fabrics used in previous ISSEY MIYAKE Collections.

It is impossible to tell the story of Miyake’s work without mentioning his unique collaboration with renowned photographer Irving Penn that lasted for over 10 years, beginning in 1986. Miyake never visited the studio during the photography. He felt that his communication was Penn as A-Un, or a silent communication. The results of Penn’s interpretations burst with energy and surprise; Miyake always felt energized and inspired by the other artists’ vision of his clothing. The over 250 photographs were compiled into 7 books. This body of work represents not only an archive documenting a unique artistic collaboration but also of the spiritual connection between two creators, separated by two continents.

@Issey Miyake Constructible Clothes, 1969. Photo: @Kishin Shinoyam

In 1988, he presented an exhibition ISSEY MIYAKE A-ŪN at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. The exhibition focused on Miyake’s explorations with materials, while also presenting his work as a whole. At the same moment, Miyake began to experiment further with pleats, in the hopes of expanding the possibilities of the medium using a new technique and a different perspective. Instead of cutting and sewing clothes from pre-pleated fabric, he first cut and sewed precisely oversized garments made of yarn with memory, sandwiched them between layers of paper and then fed them into a heat-press which shrank them to perfectly sized garments, at the same time finalizing the shape and texture. After the success of this technique, he began to further using a wide range of pleated clothing from the standpoints of machinery and handcrafting, and the fabric’s response to folding, twisting, pressing, and crushing.

In 1991, Miyake used this new pleating technique to create clothing for the first performance of William Forsythe’s new production The Loss of Small Detail for the Frankfurt Ballet. By creating clothing that would allow dancers the sort of freedom of movement Miyake found his universal clothing that he had dreamed of in 1968. In 1993, he launched PLEATS PLEASE ISSEY MIYAKE line using the unique “garment pleating”. The label offered clothing as a product that was easy to wear, care for and to travel with, practical for all aspects of daily life, comfortable, affordable, and elegant. He continues to pursue avenues of creating clothing to suit the needs and lifestyle of a modern woman.

@Issey Miyake – @FINANCIAL TIMES magazine, February-01-2014

In 1998, Miyake began to develop A-POC (A Piece Of Cloth) with Dai Fujiwara. The A-POC technology wherby a single piece of thread is fed into an industrial knitting or weaving machine programmed by a computer was not only able to create a new form of mass-produced clothing with a high degree of variation, but was also able to control the amount created through the process of casting. A-POC was revolutionary in that the process converted a single thread into a fabric with texture, shape and clothing based upon a computer concept of engineering design. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York has one of the earliest evolutions of A-POC (QUEEN) this in its permanent collection. In 1998, Miyake also presented the ISSEY MIYAKE MAKING THINGS exhibition in Paris. (which later traveled to both New York and Tokyo.) The exhibition presented his work from Pleats (1988) onward and received wide acclaim.

His work is grounded in that stretch of history called the present and draws meaning from fashion’s immediate context. ‘Making Things’ presents that context with immense glamour and wit” (December 27, 1998 The New York Times).

Miyake’s work and concepts transcend genres, and continue to draw attention around the world. In 1986, his clothing appeared on the cover of America’s Time Magazine (January 27th issue), along with an article entitled “Changing Clothes: Issey Miyake,” which dug deeply into his approach to creation. Later he was chosen alongside Mahatma Gandhi, Mao Zedong, the Dalai Lama, and Emperor Hirohito for a special 1999 Time feature on the “Most Influential Asians of the 20th Century” (August 23-30 issue); and was introduced as the “Beauty Maker.” The article stated, “With the future as his guide and nature his inspiration, the path-breaking Japanese designer has created clothing with enduring, global appeal.” The French magazine Le Monde 2 visited the Miyake Design Studio, and introduced Miyake and his staff’s work as “not a maison de couture, but a laboratory for development and production, unparalleled in the world” (December 10, 2005 issue).

In 2004, Miyake established The Miyake Issey Foundation (which became a foundation for the benefit of the public in 2011). In addition to creating an archive of his own work, the Foundation seeks to sow the seeds of evolution for design in society and pass them on to the next generation by training professionals and introducing his work to young artists from all over the world. In 2007, the Foundation opened 21_21 DESIGN SIGHT (designed by architect Tadao Ando), with the support of Mitsui Fudosan Co., Ltd., located in the Tokyo Midtown complex. Miyake was appointed as its director, along with Taku Satoh, Naoto Fukasawa, and Noriko Kawakami. The center hosts exhibitions whose themes are fashioned from the unique perspectives of the different directors and have had great impact both in and outside of Japan.

From the exhibition @The Work of Miyake Issey, @The National Art Center, Tokyo, 2016; Photo: @Masaya Yoshimura

Miyake also assembled a select team of experienced and young staff members from within the Miyake Design Studio known as the “Reality Lab” for to further encourage projects based in research and development. The Reality Lab implements R&D related to the environment and resources looking to address the concerns we share about the world for future generations. The group launched the 132 5. ISSEY MIYAKE collection in 2010 and successfully developed the IN-EI ISSEY MIYAKE lighting collection in 2012.

In 2013, Miyake produced the “Aomori University Men’s Rhythmic Gymnastics Team” performance at the Yoyogi National Stadium’s Second Gymnasium, choreographed by Daniel Ezralow. He had greatly enjoyed the team’s performances and organized the event as way to share their activities with a wider audience. The clothing he created for this event evolved into his next evolution: the HOMME PLISSÉ ISSEY MIYAKE collection.

HOMME PLISSÉ ISSEY MIYAKE was designed as a modern everyday clothing collection for men whose day-to-day needs are no longer suits and ties but reflect men’s current lifestyles. The HOMME PLISSÉ ISSEY MIYAKE technology is based on the PLEATS PLEASE ISSEY MIYAKE technique but tailors the level of thread and fabric weaving and knitting to adapt to men’s clothing.

@Issey Miyake 2022 products;

In 2016 an exhibition entitled “The Work of Miyake Issey” was held at the National Art Center, Tokyo. The exhibition’s focus was upon Miyake’s work from the outset and clarified his approach to design and making things. The exhibition showed a clear evolutionary path of Miyake’s creations throughout the years showing them in the context of the new technologies that had made them possible and inspired a new generation of young designers.

In 2018, the Italian architecture and design magazine Domus featured an in-house research project simply called Session One. Clothing in the series developed with young staff members and whose theme was “wild” theme and used a “jacquard-style” textile made from 12,000 polyester and cotton threads. Session One, in which a single piece of cloth transforms into a three-dimensional pleat when heated, is a project that emphasizes the process of thought created by rethinking the relationship between people and clothes from the earliest origins rather than from the clothing itself.

Issey Miyake on the cover of @Le Monde Paris, 10 Dec. 2005. Photo: Jean-Baptiste Mondino