Issey Miyake with models at the end of one of his parades | AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere

Throughout his career, Japanese fashion designer Issey Miyake, who died of cancer at 84, rejected terms like “fashion.”

But her work has allowed much of the world to reinvent itself through clothing.

Born in Hiroshima in 1938, Miyake studied graphic design in Tokyo, where he was influenced by Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi and the black and white photography of Irving Penn.

As soon as post-war restrictions prohibiting Japanese nationals from traveling abroad were lifted, he headed for Paris, where he arrived in 1964.

Participant in the Japanese fashion revolution, Issey Miyake, who died on August 5, changed the way we see, wear and make fashion

There, the young designer did his apprenticeship for the eminent haute couture houses Guy Laroche and Hubert de Givenchy. These houses made expensive clothes that met current etiquette standards. Miyake had to go way beyond that. Miyake was there for the Parisian student revolt of 1968 and was galvanized by the earthquake of youth shaking all the rules of society.

The concept of ready-to-wear by a couturier had been launched a few years earlier when Yves Saint Laurent created Saint Laurent Rive Gauche at the end of 1966. The fashion system was changing and Miyake rose to the challenge.

Japanese fashion revolution

Issey Miyake created fashion for women and men, seen here in his Spring/Summer 2023 collection | EPA/Mohammed Badra

Miyake arrived in Paris shortly after Kenzo’s “Jungle Jap” clothes caused a stir, with their bright colors and unexpected patterns, inspired in part by Japanese artistic traditions.

The Japanese fashion revolution was beginning.

Japanese designers, including Rei Kawakubo for Comme des Garçons, Yohji Yamamoto and Issey, all born in the 1930s and 1940s, rose to prominence in the 1970s and paraded in Paris.

All challenged Eurocentric visions of fashion and beauty. Japanese designers reversed the Western emphasis on symmetry and cleanliness and adopted aspects of Japanese aesthetic systems, such as Yamamoto’s use of black with colors such as red, purple, cherry, brown and dark blue.

Miyake held his first runway show in New York in 1971 and in Paris in 1973. He integrated technology with tradition, exploring Japanese aesthetics and uncut, loose-fitting clothing. He also commissioned high-tech textiles that influenced fashion around the world.

Miyake’s BODY series included the famous plastic, rattan and resin bustiers in which the female body was reimagined as a kind of armor. In February 1982, the eminent magazine Artforum photographed a Miyake bustier on the cover. It was the first time that a contemporary art magazine presented fashion.

Covering the body

A first creation by Issey Miyake presented in New York in 1972 | AP Photo

Throughout her career, Miyake has completely reinvented the potential of textiles.

Together with his textile manager Makiko Minagawa and Japanese textile mills, he began to create the famous Pleats collections: using heat-treated polyester textiles that were not pleated before sewing (the usual practice), but made much more large, then pleated in machines.

The 1989 Rhythm Pleats collection was inspired by French artist Henri Rousseau: Miyake took elements of the color palette and the strange sculptural shells surrounding the women in these paintings, a good example of how his influences have always been abstract and suggestive.

His highly commercial Pleats Please collection was launched in 1993.

The A-POC (A Piece of Cloth) collection (in collaboration with Dai Fujiwara, 1998) revolutionized clothing design and prefigured concerns around the unsustainability of fashion and the resulting waste. Garments were knitted three-dimensionally in a continuous tube, using computerized knitting technology as a whole and from a single yarn.

The garment came in a cylinder and was then cut out by the wearer – there was no waste, as the remaining sections became mittens, for example.

Miyake and the men

Issey Miyake and his models at the end of the presentation of the spring-summer 1994 ready-to-wear collection | AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau, File

Miyake’s 1991 pneumatic collection included men’s knickerbocker pants with plastic bladders and straws – men could inflate or deflate the garments as they pleased.

It was the time of the AIDS crisis and the weight loss that accompanied it. Calvin Klein responded with hyper-masculine underwear and hyper-masculine advertising. Miyake, on the other hand, tested the zeitgeist by suggesting that we use clothes to tailor our body and appearance to our needs.

Having worn his clothes myself for some time, I can attest to the liberation they provide. The jackets are unlined and hug the body in an unexpected way. The sleeves can be made in a way that creates a pagoda shape on your arm and adds vibrancy to the body. The color palette is extraordinary and so different from a scheme of sensible woolens or tweeds.

The computer-generated jacquard weave creates subtle patterns only registering on closer inspection. Textiles have an unexpected tactility close to the skin. Some garments are supplied literally rolled into a ball. They weigh next to nothing, which means they set the traveler free. Once unrolled and placed on the body, they come back to life.

There is a real sense that you, the wearer, animate these lifeless things: dressing is a performance and the clothes generate a reality that is both theatrical and practical. Although widely worn (there’s a cliché that all gallery owners once lived in Miyake), people remain intrigued by them, wanting to touch them for themselves.

At the Issey Miyake retrospective in Tokyo in 2016, I saw Miyake and I really wanted to go see him and thank him for transforming the potential of fashion for women and men around the world, its material possibility and its imaginative possibility.

I would like to thank him very much now.

Republished from The Conversation
The author is Emeritus Professor of Design History at the University of Technology Sydney, Australia.

Posted in Dawn, ICON, August 21, 2022


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