Issey Miyake is one of the holy trinity of Japanese fashion design. Along with Rei Kawakubo, founder of COMME des GARÇONS, and Yohji Yamamoto, Miyake was instrumental in reinvigorating the global fashion scene in the 1980s with clothing that helped to create an avant-garde fashion identity that was uniquely Japanese. Miyake, however, is no ordinary fashion designer. Business considerations aside, he approached clothing as a sculptor, shaping fabric through traditional techniques and employing methods that are technologically innovative to create clothing that is as much art as fashion.
Issey Miyake, 三宅 一生, is officially retired since 1997, when he handed over the position of Creative Director of Issey Miyake to his assistant Naoki Takizawa – though Miyake still oversees the creative direction of his various clothing and accessory lines. Takizawa, who joined Miyake in 1989 and had been chief designer of the men’s collections since 1993, in turn branched out – starting his own label with the support of Miyake in 2006 – and handed over the design reins to assistant Dai Fujiwara the same year. Fujiwara, who joined Issey Miyake in 1994 after graduation from Tokyo’s Tama Art University, took over as Creative Director of Issey Miyake in early 2011.
Takizawa, in addition to overseeing his own label, is kept busy with various positions: Creative Director of Helmut Lang Mens line; design director at UNIQLO’s Innovation Project; a part-time professorial role at Tokyo’s Waseda University. Miyake also remains active with his involvement in the 21_21 Design Sight cultural space in Tokyo, which he conceived and remains one of the founding directors.
Issey Miyake was born in Hiroshima in 1938, and as a young boy survived the dropping of the Atomic Bomb on his city. He studied graphic design at Tama Art University, after which he moved to Paris in the 1960s, where he studied at the Syndicat de la Couture, then worked first as an assistant designer for Guy Laroche and later with Givenchy. Deciding he wasn’t interested in becoming a couturier in the French tradition, he moved on to New York, where he took a job with Geoffrey Beene, before returning to Japan in 1970 and launching his fashion career.
He produced his first Issey Miyake collection for women in 1971 and showed in Paris for the first time in 1973. The first Issey Miyake retail store appeared in Aoyama in 1974, followed by a boutique in Paris the following year, while 1978 saw the launch of Issey Miyake Men. These lines have enjoyed great creative and critical success, and with these alone, Miyake’s reputation would be established, but it’s the fashion experimentation that he has conducted since the 1980s beginning with his initial investigations into pleating that have elevated Issey Miyake to the status of artist.
The first of Issey Miyake’s major technological innovations, the garments created under the Pleats Please label are manufactured in a unique fashion. Once the single pieces of cloth have been cut and sewn – at two to three times the size of the finished product, the polyester jersey clothing pieces are sandwiched between sheets of paper and heat pressed to retain the pleat patterns. The clothes that are ripped out of the paper wrappings have an architectural quality and evoke paper lanterns and fans and have a kinetic dance-like quality, so it’s not surprising that Miyake creations have been used by dance companies.
Launched by Miyake and Dai Fujiwara in 1998, A-POC – apiece of cloth – is another conceptual exploration, in which fabric is woven as a continuous tube, shaped and patterned according to computer programming, An inspired take on utilitarian clothing, the wearer becomes involved in the creation of an individual garment by cutting it, its sleeves and hem to the desired length.
The 132 5. concept is born of conceptual experimentation with fabric, design and construction. Garments are made of recycled fibers, including such materials as recycled pet bottles, and these fabrics are folded into complex two-dimensional forms determined by computer algorithms. Heat pressing fixes the forms and openings are made along pre-determined cut lines. When the garment is finished, as if by magic, the origami-like three-dimensional facets of a dress appears as fabric is lifted from the flat folds of fabric.
With me, Miyake puts his spin on mass production and the self service society typified by vending machines. Introduced in 2001, me is all about colorful tops – 21st Century T shirts – that have been engineered with pleating technology to stretch to fit anybody in a one size fits all approach to fashion, and they’re merchandised in acrylic screw-top tubes that are stacked into wall mounted store dispensers for sale. me Issey Miyake is also known as Cauliflower in some countries.
Bao Bao is a recent brand, covering bags and accessories, such as the Bilbao series of totes and pouches that were launched in 2010. Echoing the geodesic dome structure made famous by Buckminster Fuller, the Bilbao bags are another exploration of form by Issey Miyake. Triangular plastic tiles are arranged in geometric patterns and bonded to a mesh lining, creating unique form-shifting bags that are lightweight, strong and sculptural in their pop primary or metallic colors.
His approach to retailing is just as innovative, from the me/Cauliflower outlets mentioned above and the combini influenced 24 Issey Miyake department store concept shops to ELTTOB TEP – which reads as Pet Bottle in reverse – and is an Issey Miyake select store, combining under one roof products from various Issey Miyake lines. The concept store and event space was introduced in Osaka’s Minami-Semba district in 2007, while a second store opened in Tokyo’s Ginza district in March 2011.
Other Issey Miyake lines include HaaT (since 2000) and FÊTE (since 2004), both for women, and the fashion company has naturally created a range of fragrances such as L’eau d’Issey and watches.
Miyake has been honored by various awards and international exhibitions and in 2010, he was awarded japan’s Order of Culture, 文化勲章. An exhibition of photos of Issey Miyake clothing photographed by legendary photographer Irving Penn opened this month in Tokyo. Irving Penn & Issey Miyake: Visual Dialogue contains images covering collections from 1987 to 1999 and is currently showing at 21_21 Design Sight until April 2012.