“I want to forge ahead. I want to break the mold. I want to find out what clothing might be.”
Renowned as one of the true geniuses of the fashion world, Issey (Kazumaru) Miyake has been making waves in the industry for decades. Born in 1938 in Hiroshima city, Japan, Miyake grew up admiring the photography of Irving Penn and thumbing through his sister’s copies of Vogue.
“My generation in Japan lived in limbo. We were the first really raised with Hollywood movies and Hershey bars, the first who had to look in another direction for a new identity. We dreamed between two worlds.”
In 1945, the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima – an event that took the lives of most of Miyake’s family except his mother, who was severely burned and died of complications three years later. Lucky to survive, Miyake developed a bone-marrow disease at the age of ten. Under these tragic circumstances, many would have shut down, but not Miyake. Despite his dark past, the raw creativity and sheer talent he possessed would inevitably surface later in his life through his body of work.
Miyake’s work in fashion began in 1963, when he graduated with a degree in graphic design from Tama Art University in Tokyo. In 1965, he moved to Paris and enrolled at the École de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne. It is here that he became captivated with the beauty and detail that is couture. Miyake was equally immersed in the pop culture and music revolution going on at the time in London. Any chance he got, he would escape Paris across the Channel, and fell under the spell of the Youthquake scene of King’s Road and became infatuated with boutiques such as Biba.
After receiving his diploma from the Chambre Syndicale in 1966, Miyake went on to work as a design assistant at Guy Laroche. In 1968, he began working for Givenchy, where he made sketches for couture clients. It was during this time that he witnessed the student and worker strikes in Paris. This experience made him resolve to pursue fashion design for the masses, rather than just for the elite (as the couture he was working on was).
“Clothes for everyone, not just a few.”
He moved to New York in 1969 and designed for Geoffrey Beene, but a vigorous work and party life aggravated the symptoms of his osteomyelitis and left him with a limp. He returned to Tokyo in 1970 and founded the Miyake Design Studio. This also marked the beginning of a long-term collaboration with textile designer Makiko Minagawa. In the following decades, Minagawa would develop some of Miyake’s most interesting and conceptual textiles.
Throughout the seventies, he revived many traditional Japanese textiles, such as shijiraori (a cloth woven from discarded scraps) and sashiko (a quilted worker’s cotton). In the eighties, he turned to novel materials: plastic, paper, silicone, and cellophane. And in the nineties, he debuted two ranges that spoke to the need for, as he put it, “style based on life”: Pleats Please, followed by A-POC, a line of no-sew clothes made of knitted tubes of fabric that wearers cut and customize themselves. “I don’t believe in it,” he’s said of fashion. “I believe in a human being and a piece of cloth.”
“I want my clothes to be used by the person and never worn in a prescribed way . . . if someone only bought one thing from me and taught me a new way of wearing it, I would be happy.”
Many of the pieces we carry in our store come from one of Miyake’s most beloved lines, Pleats Please, which was first launched in 1993. Like many of Miyake’s pieces, Pleats Please garments are designed to be functional in more ways than one. Made from single pieces of high quality 100% polyester fabric, the innovation behind Pleats Please is that clothes are first cut and sewn together two-and-a-half to three times larger than the finished garments. Individual pieces are then hand-fed into a heat press sandwiched between two sheets of paper. The garment then emerges with permanent pleats. This industrial process allows both texture and form to be created at the same time. Vertical, horizontal and zig-zag pleating is used to create varying effects and architectural shapes. The garments store easily, travel well, require no ironing, and can be washed and dried in minutes.
“Western clothes are cut and shaped with the body as the starting point. Japanese clothes start with the fabric.”
All of Miyake’s experiments are linked by the use of cutting-edge, high-performance textiles and the reliance on the movement of the wearer to animate them. His clothing comes to life when worn in a way that few designers’ pieces do. This conceptual springboard is what leads admirers to speak of his work as art as much as fashion – and indeed, Miyake’s otherworldly ensembles have always been the calling card of a certain urbane and intellectually inclined free spirit.
Miyake has always gone his own way, a dream-weaving sojourner on the edge of the mainstream. In doing so, he was one of the pioneers who broke ground for subsequent generations of Japanese renegades that includes Rei Kawakubo, Yohji Yamamoto, Junya Watanabe, and Jun Takahashi. While he no longer designs the clothing lines that bear his name, Miyake will always be regarded as one of the great radicals of twentieth-century fashion.
“To me, design must get into real life. Otherwise, it’s just couture, it’s just extravaganza.”