Pleats and A-POC where ‘a piece of cloth’ or garment is made from a single thread are trademarks of Issey Miyake — the Japanese designer who continually pushes boundaries of tradition and evolution of design. His collections are recognisable by the techniques, a huge feat for any designer. Miyake’s approach to Fashion is the freedom to bring to life, ideas unconstrained by a pre-existing structure, through a rigorous process of research and experimentation. And the way he seamlessly blends ancient Japanese textile traditions with the newest technology to crate sculptural, avant-garde silhouettes.
Born on April 22, 1938 in Hiroshima, Issey Miyake grew up to see his house destroyed when the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. Although he survived and walks with a limp, his mother died of radiation exposure within three years. Miyake soon moved to Tokyo and graduated in graphic design from Tama Art University in 1964. Moving to Paris, he enrolled himself at School Of Chambre Syndicale De La Couture Parisienne and began his career as a design assistant with Guy Laroche, then Hubert de Givenchy. In 1969 he moved to New York to work with Geoffrey Beene. While in New York, he was intrigued by the potential of Japan which was gaining momentum due to Osaka Expo ’70 and returned to his country.
After establishing Miyake Design Studio in 1970, he launched Issey Miyake and Issey Miyake Men. One of his earliest pieces is jerseys hand-painted with portraits of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, using Japanese tattoo technique. The print was created by one of Miyake’s collaborators, Makiko Minagawa. Also, coats using sashiko technique, an ancient Japanese running stitch that creates geometric patterns. Tradition is important to Miyake. It is the blend of hand craftsmanship and ancient textile traditions with new techniques that kept his label at the forefront of Fashion for over four decades. Miyake’s creative process always begins by studying the thread and then developing garments. Some of his notable looks in the Seventies include ‘Sashiko’ made from hard-wearing quilted fabric; ‘Tanzen’, belted kimono-style coat; ‘Shohana-momen’, coordinated red shirt and cropped pants made from fabric that traditionally lined men’s kimonos.
In the Eighties, he began experimenting with pleating. Traditionally, pleats are made before a garment is cut and sewn. Miyake reversed the process — developing garments from a single thread, wrapping in layers of paper and feeding it into a heat press where they were pleated. Lightweight, wrinkle-free and beautiful, ‘Pleats Please Issey Miyake’ was a cult collection that developed into a brand. In the Nineties, he was acclaimed for A-POC, abbreviation for ‘A Piece of Cloth’, made from a single thread, it is an industrialised process that eliminates the need for cutting and sewing; Miyake sold the long tube of jersey without his label. The first store dedicated to A-POC opened in Tokyo the same year. Miyake’s steam-stretching technique, in which computers program steam heat to shrink jacquard into three-dimensional grooves, was another hit.
As a visionary, he cast aside commercial ideas of Fashion for extravagant experiments, such as Project 132 5 developed by Issey Miyake and his Reality Lab. team — steeped in origami and sustainability. The mathematical aesthetic loaned the collection creativity and elegance. British Vogue describes it well: ”Each garment, developed by computer scientist Jun Mitani, is created from intricately folded cloth in sustainable recycled polyester. The pieces come in 2D form, that when lifted, take a 3D shape in origami-style skirts, dresses and trousers.” Whether it is garments crafted using paper or digital production techniques, Miyake’s team continues to innovate, recently coming up with Bao Bao — lightweight and soft, the bag made with a flexible grid of vinyl triangles linked with polyester mesh, folds and transforms itself into dramatic shapes! The flexible functionality, ideal for busy urban lifestyles, made it a cult.
In 1994 and 1999, Miyake handed over the design of the men’s and women’s lines respectively, to Naoki Takizawa, so he could return to research. In 2007, Takizawa opened his own brand supported by Issey Miyake Group and was replaced as Creative Director by Dai Fujiwara till 2012. Yoshiyuki Miyamae was appointed head designer of womenswear and Yusuke Takahashi became head designer of the men’s line. Issey Miyake continues to oversee all collections.
Developed by Miyake Design Studio in collaboration with Beauté Prestige International Division of Shiseido in France, Issey Miyake Parfums launched L’eau d’Issey and L’eau d’Issey Pour Homme in the Nineties. Since, Miyake continually unveils new fragrances for both men and women, some in alliance with a guest perfumer.
1974: Japan Fashion Editor’s Club Award
1980: New York Award for Creative Design
1984: International Award of the Council of America Fashion Designers
1984: Neiman-Marcus Award
1977, 1984, 1996: Mainichi Newspaper Fashion Awards
2005: Praemium Imperiale for Sculpture by Japan Arts Association for outstanding achievement in the arts
2006: Kyoto Prize In Arts and Philosophy for lifetime achievement by Inamori Foundation, Japan; the prize included a diploma, 20-karat gold medal and 50 million yen.
2010: Japan’s Order of Culture from Emperor Akihito