Undoubtedly one of the greatest creators of the XXe century, Issey Miyake deliberately merged East and West. With him, Japan has definitely become a major fashion player on the international scene. Originality, innovation, technology, poetry cross an exceptional work which marked the XXe century and the 21ste century.
Born in Hiroshima in 1938, Issey Miyake saw his childhood personally marked by the atomic bomb which devastated the great city of Honshū. He chose fine arts at Tama University and championed the importance of fashion early on. He already presents a work named Nuno to ishi no uta (“A Poem of Garment and Stone”).
It was his arrival in Paris in 1965 that definitively directed his career towards fashion. He enrolled in the school ofSchool of the Parisian Couture Union Chamber and spent in various French houses: Guy Laroche, Givenchy… He then enriched his course in the United States, with a stint at Geoffrey Beene in New York.
Back in Japan, Issey Miyake will create resolutely original, innovative fashion, while choosing to explore the tradition and techniques of the country with a garment that will be universal. In 1970, the MDS was created (Miyake Design Studio) in a concrete building designed by the architect’s brother Tadao Andō; he will never stop creating bridges between the arts, design and fashion.
In the early 1970s, his first collection was discovered by Diana Vreeland, popess of US Vogue, who would become a loyal supporter of the designer. In 1978, his first book already marks the orchestrated encounter between two worlds: East meets West. “I tried to create a fashion that was neither Japanese nor Western”, he said.
Its originality marks its beginnings, with innovative ideas and spectacular pieces. Taking up the idea of the large tattoos worn by certain Japanese people – notably the yakuza –, he reinterprets them with contemporary Western figures like Janis Joplin or Jimi Hendrix. From traditional Japan, he uses artisanal techniques of wicker work to make models similar to armor.
With oiled paper (aburagami), he creates loose clothing. From the start, the materials are thought out and reworked. Issey Miyake multiplies experiments, merging craftsmanship and science: “To create extraordinary fabrics, we can use technology and tradition at the same time.”
He appeals to the past, old techniques such as sashiko (a darning stitch paradoxically very visible, often white on an indigo background). But he also imagines the future, with his plastic bustiers (autumn-winter 1981) exhibited in the “Bodyworks” exhibition. Living in Tokyo at the time, I had admired them in the window of the Miyake boutique and dreamed of having one as a wedding outfit.
From the beginning, Issey Miyake initiated the concept a piece of cloth, but it was through his invention of permanent pleating that he was to revolutionize fashion, with a universal, practical – it does not wrinkle – and comfortable garment. The creator described his approach as follows: “I shifted my thinking from the design of the garment to its use: I wanted to create a garment that was in tune with life, that was light and easy to maintain.” If the first pieces were quite stiff, the fabrics softened over time.
The very first exhibition of the pleats was already spectacular. In an ephemeral place in Tokyo, the clothes were laid flat on the floor, in geometric cutouts. Discovered an extraordinary dress, exceptional and disconcertingly simple. Two pleated circles of different colors; two openings on one side, only one on the other.
Once placed on a body, the garment took on the magnitude of a new asymmetry, deconstructing the perfect geometry. Very present in design in Japan, asymmetry will be expressed with majesty in fashion and will revolutionize the Western vision of clothing.
In Tokyo, I had the chance to experiment with a pleating machine and created my fabrics. Placed on top of each other, a piece of apple green fabric and another of blue color enter the pleating machine. United forever, they will come out like a toaster. This was the image used by the Miyake team to explain the principle of this compacted fabric, this permanent pleating.
The invention of pleats made it possible to create art series. The first salvo was carried out with photographer Araki: a portrait of a woman or flowers. In Tokyo, we chose the model of clothing, the color and the work; the press then composed the garment on demand. Yasumasa Morimura was the second, with his very original parody from the source of Ingres.
The Englishman Tim Hawkinson created a theme around the body with an eye motif and a revisited body. Finally, the Chinese Cai Guo-Quiang added burnt patterns. The same artist created Blast Dragona pyrogenic performance as part of the Miyake exhibition at the Fondation Cartier in 1998.
Issey Miyake, who always showed a great interest in the arts, was particularly very close to Christo and Jeanne-Claude. We met in New York, where we had come to admire them Gates who criss-crossed Central Park. Last sign of friendship linking him to the duo: the outfits of the helpers of the project Wrapped by Christo and Jeanne-Claude at the Arc de Triomphe were designed by the Miyake Design Studio.
In Tokyo, Issey Miyake opened the 21_21 Design Sight, a museum nestled in beautiful concrete architecture by Tadao Andō. Successive exhibitions on various themes, from “Wild” at “Chocolate” and paying tribute to personalities: Christo, Kuramata, Jean-Paul Goude…
Taking up the concept of a piece of cloth in acronym, Issey Miyake invents A-POC in 1998 with Dai Fujiwara. They imagine a kind of clothing in a pre-cut kit where the buyer chooses the length of the sleeves, the skirt… A project that is perhaps a little too daring and complicated (cutting out your own clothing can fear). But the memory of the catwalk, with a long caterpillar of models strapped together, remains one of the most beautiful catwalk images that has ever existed.
Speaking of image, we must also mention the exceptional meeting with Irving Penn. Right arm of Issey Miyake, Midori Kitamura remembers that she arrived with the clothes from each collection, and that Irving Penn then chose and imagined stagings to magnify the models that Issey Miyake then had the joy of rediscovering differently. .
Technology is taking an increasingly large part in the Miyake collections. With “132 5”Issey Miyake is still in Paris (Kreo Gallery) to present this innovative and original project. Each number has its own symbol: 1 for a piece of clothing (a piece of cloth), 3 for three dimensions, 2 because the garment is folded flat in two dimensions, and finally 5 because wearing it transcends time and dimensions. Issey Miyake took the garment and unfolded it to take shape and life, while explaining the modeling of the imagined process on the computer.
Technology continues to invite itself into all 21st century collections.e century, with the creators who succeeded him and continued his work.
Deeply Japanese when it comes to smells, Issey Miyake dreamed of an odorless water perfume… The solution was found in a magnificent project, “Shiseido”, led by Chantal Roos. A fresh, floral, light and aquatic fragrance, in a bottle where poetry invites itself like the Moon lands on the Eiffel Tower at night. A magnificent success. Le Feu d’Issey, deeply original (a milky amber), did not have the success it deserved.
A Scent had a really original bottle project, a single shape and the capacity modified just in thickness. Issey Miyake has always multiplied meetings with designers; this is how, among the exceptional editions, we were offered a bottle of Shiro Kuromata and another by Ettore Sottsass.
Numerous exhibitions have made it possible to gradually discover the importance of Issey Miyake. Already in “MA Space-time in Japan” in 1978 (at the Museum of Decorative Arts) there were models. Then there was “A/Un” in 1988, still at the Arts Déco. But it’s the great Tokyo exhibition in 2016 which gave all the measure and importance of this extraordinary creator.
An impressive amount of freedom, fantasy, originality, audacity, technology, tradition. A magnificent union and fusion between east and west, to use his words. Issey Miyake not only succeeded in creating exceptional pieces, but he accomplished the feat of creating a kind of universal and timeless garment with his pleats. He will go down in fashion history as one of the greatest designers. The importance of his creations remains to be (re)discovered.