Remembering fashion designer Issey Miyake

When Japanese fashion designer Issey Miyake passed away on Aug. 5 in Tokyo, the fashion community paid tribute to the life of an artist who brought thought and beauty to a world of unrest and destruction.

In the bookends of his life lies a striking cultural and political poetry to the world’s state.

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Born in Hiroshima, a 7-year-old Miyake watched his city engulfed in an atomic catastrophe. In his final days fighting liver cancer, the haunting heat of August brought forth whispers of possible nuclear weapons in the ongoing Russo-Ukraine conflict. Between entering and exiting life under chaotic global conditions, Miyake’s career is defined by challenging the notions of war and inhumanity.

Miyake’s early inspirations for design stemmed from his dream of becoming a professional dancer and his sister’s fashion magazines. He finished formal training in graphic design at Tama University in Tokyo while simultaneously submitting entries to Bunka Fashion College.

Though ambitious, Miyake recognized his insufficient sewing and pattern making skills and sought to improve them in Paris. In the world’s fashion capital, the budding designer entered the tailoring holy grail École de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne. His studies were followed by practicum at significant arteliers and his tutelage under household names such as Guy Laroche, Hubert de Givenchy and Geoffry Beene would later inspire the start of his own label.

His independent endeavor, Miyake Design Studio, opened in 1973 in Tokyo. During the 80s, Miyake’s collections gained traction in tandem with other designers of the Japanese wave. This artistic movement included the likes of the avant-garde Comme des Garçons’ Rei Kawakubo.

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Many of his bold-colored and patterned creations are often compared to origami shapes. During the production period of his “Pleats Please” collection, he became known as the “King of Pleats.” This title laid the foundation for his recognition as the first recipient of the Kyoto Prize in Arts and Philosophy for lifetime achievement.

Miyake’s greatest experimentation lies in the technology of “A Piece of Cloth,” a technique where fabric is created out of a single thread. These garments — often built with a prioritization for movement and humanity — were developed using early initiatives in computer generated prints and industrial knitting. The fluid nature of fabric movement provided a metaphorical link to freedom within the human condition.

The designer’s other significant achievements include Steve Jobs’ signature black mock turtleneck and his international best selling fragarance L’Eau d’Issey. The former solidified his status as an international connosier and affinity for collaborating with visionaries. The latter popularized oceanic perfumes and summarized Miyake’s focus on nature’s purpose.

In reviewing his journey through the fashion industry, it is important to note that Miyake’s feelings of being an artistic outcast in Japan and a foreigner in the Western sphere gave him the advantage of carving out his own patterns.

Through combining the disenchanted feelings of his generation in a traditionalist Japan with the freedom lovers of Western countries, Miyake was a critical part of the artistic foundation rebuilding Japan’s modern day identity as a design and technological pioneer. By interweaving an innovative vigor for the exploration of Earth’ deconstruction and construction, the designer was able to create a legacy of hope for unification between the East and West.

Featured image courtesy of Hsinhuei Chiou, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons