Honoring Issey Miyake

Honoring Issey Miyake

Haven Neiman

Legendary Japanese fashion designer Issey Miyake has recently passed away at the age of 84. For over 50 years, his dynamic spirit and relentless curiosity contributed to his technologically-driven and revolutionary clothing designs such as the iconic ‘pleating’ tailoring technique and more simpler pieces such as the late Steve Jobs’ signature turtleneck. Miyake leaves behind a notable legacy of fashion as a whole, as his techniques and skills changed the way the world views clothes in their entirety. Miyake discovered how to transcend trends and gender roles while challenging fashion structure and innovation. This specific innovation would eventually lead to a diverse band of Japanese designers, such as Yohi Yamamoto, Rei Kawakubo, Junya Watanabe, and the late Kenzo Takada. 

Born in Hiroshima, Japan, Issey Miyake desired to be a dancer, but his eyes landing upon his sister’s fashion magazines eventually set the stage for his future career. As for design, this concept sparked his interest when he encountered two bridges designed by Isamu Noguchi in the city center named Ikiru and Shinu. After high school, Miyake went on to study graphic design at Tama Art University in Tokyo before moving to Paris in 1965 to study at the prestigious tailoring and dressmaking school École de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne. While pursuing his studies, the designer worked behind the scenes with iconic designers such as Guy Laroche, Hubert de Givenchy, and Geoffrey Beene. Miyake was given the role of an assistant designer to Guy Laroche, while with Hubert de Givenchy he was drawing an estimated 50 to 100 sketches daily.

Shortly after moving to New York City in 1969, Miyake enrolled in English classes at Columbia University while working on Seventh Avenue for the designer Geoffrey Beene. This move did not last long though, as Miyake quickly moved back to Tokyo in 1970 and founded one of his most proud and successful ventures—Miyake Design Studios. He ended up showcasing his first collection in New York City the following year. Miyake embraced traditional handcrafted designs but was also always looking forward when it came to developing new techniques in the realm of fashion. His love of making things was prevalent in everything from his PLEATS PLEASE and HOMME PLISSÉ ISSEY MIYAKE diffusion lines. These brands help explore some of the designer’s most experimental fashion efforts, such as his signature ‘pleating’ technique.

Miyake Design Studios specializes in designing high-end women’s fashion that implements this pleating technique. This revolutionary technique involved wrapping fabric between layers of paper in a heat press, resulting in massive and transformative success for the designer and his ventures in their entirety. Each clothing item created by this design studio is made with this unique garment pleating technique, while the materials themselves are developed from a single thread, and pallets are added after sewing the clothes into their desired shape. In 1988, Miyake Design Studios created the iconic Pleats Please women’s clothing line, and this line eventually became its brand in 1994 with the introduction of the Spring/Summer 1994 collection. In addition to this brand, Miyake’s ventures grew into additional brands such as Bao Bao Issey Miyake, Issey Miyake Watches, Issey Miyake Perfumes, and A-POC.

Issey Miyake’s trial and error experimentations resulted in these continuous innovative creations. In his time he had developed an archive of fashion-forward clothes that transcended trends and traditional norms. In the 70s, Miyake’s work took on a forward-thinking approach while still being rooted in traditions as he explored his fascination with Sashiko, a quilted Japanese fabric that was commonly found in primary colors and geometric patterns. He set the stage for future Japanese designers to enter the Western market. Worn by archivists and fashion obsessives worldwide, his work has become integral to the fashion industry with each passing decade. The result was more often than not avant-garde, minimal, and refined. These conceptual works were often displayed on dancers, as the aesthetics they displayed were functional and elegant while implementing intellectual and abstract concepts as well. 

In 2006, Issey Miyake received the Kyoto Prize in Arts and Philosophy for his lifetime achievement in fashion and was the first fashion designer ever to receive this prestigious award. 10 years later, an exhibition was put together at the National Art Center in Tokyo which spotlighted some of his best collections. Since then, various archives and personal collections around the world spread the influence of Issey Miyake even further. The late fashion pioneer changed the face of couture and elevated fashion for over five decades, and helped make contemporary fashion a staple in wardrobes worldwide. His notable influence has since transferred to iconic designers and future Japanese brands such as Bounty Hunter, Neighborhood, Readymade, Saint Michael, Maison Mihara, Wacko Maria, Undercover, Human Made, Comme des Garçons PLAY and many more.

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