The 1960s often tried to imagine the future of clothing – take a look at designer Hardy Amies’ wardrobe for Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, pieces from Unquestionably dating back to 1968, Issey Miyake was working on his first “constructible clothes”, knitted pieces to be superimposed at will. Their seemingly simple shapes are soft, and their new synthetic yarns friendly. They haven’t dated once and still seem to be the future.
Miyake, who died at the age of 84, always said he was not interested in fashion, only in design for a living. He cared about the relationships between people and the fabric enveloping and enveloping their bodies, the fibers and the techniques of the fabric. Its simplicity referenced ancient principles of Japanese clothing, rectangles of the loom folded and assembled into garments, and forward, computer-controlled processes for its 2000 A-PoC (A Piece of Cloth) line, which extruded tubular tissue. that wearers could carve into seamless garments.
Miyake viewed craftsmanship and the development of chemistry and technology with equal curiosity – his polyester Bao Bao bags are hard plates on a mesh backing, strong yet flexible like samurai armor. He was an early adopter of digital design for large-scale manufacturing by computerized machinery. The more precise and perfect the repeatable process, the closer it came to craftsmanship.
His most successful concept, Pleats Please, owes its tree bark-set aesthetic to the ancient Greek linen garments imitated by Mariano Fortunywith its draped dresses of the 1910s, and its relatively affordable price for the new pleating machines that overheat the polyester texture with a memory.
Miyake’s hundreds of pleated costumes for William Forsythe’s The Loss of Small Detail at the Frankfurt Ballet in 1991 also fueled the experience, and when the line was launched in 1993, the dancer models extracted every joule of energy kinetics of the whirling of these clothes; Irving Penn happily photographed them. In turn, Miyake outfits became gala favorites for ballerinas and classical musicians, guaranteed not to crush when the conductor hugged them. Architects appreciated it too. His most famous loyal customer was Apple’s Steve Jobs, who specified to the millimeter the sleeve lengths of the many black turtlenecks he ordered.
Miyake investigated and raved about the materials, saying, “The material for clothes is limitless: anything can make clothes.” This included wood cellulose from his 1963 student designs for the Toyo Rayon Company; pineapple fiber and rubber; paper, rattan and bamboo – a traditional craftsman wove them into the Miyake bodice that Artforum magazine put on its cover in 1982, the first garment he deemed worthy of the honor.
Above all, he had an unusual respect for materials derived from fossil fuels, viewing plastic, nylon and all polys not as cheap disposable substitutes for natural substances, but as having unique properties themselves – polyfibers. that he developed with adventurous manufacturers were machine washable, dimensionally stable. , stretchy and skin-friendly. High-tech production processes have reduced yarn and fabric waste; his clothes were visually timeless and made to last physically. Miyake never considered hydrocarbons as infinite resources to be burned. Their complex chemistry and potential uses were invaluable – the heat of vanished suns made clothes and ingredients for its water-themed fragrances, starting with L’Eau d’Issey in 1992. In the 21st century, its Tokyo Reality Lab recycled plastic bottle durable and wearable fabric top.
The Lab was Miyake’s bustling old age project, after he handed over responsibility for the design of eight main lines, including decoration, and the management of international sales and stores, to personally chosen successors in the 2000s (his company remains privately owned). As well as being a crucial research and development center and liaison base with craftsmen, machine builders, suppliers and digital experimenters, it was a design academy, where the staff who had accompanied it since he opened his original design studio in 1970 shared his expertise. with young recruits. His favorite word and longtime practice was monozukurithe making of things, which meant much more than making.
Miyake did not expect to reach old age. He was born in Hiroshima, the son of an army officer and a teacher, and evacuated to a nearby small town during World War II. On August 6, 1945, at 8:15 a.m., he was in elementary school when he saw the flash of the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. Seven-year-old Miyake left alone for the family home, 2.3 km from the center of the explosion, in search of his mother among the dead and dying.
She had survived, badly burned, and died three years later, after treating him for osteomyelitis, the radiation sickness he had contracted and crippled him. What made Miyake grow up in a poor city that was slowly rebuilding was painting – too poor to buy brushes, he worked with his fingers – and the Bridge of Peace there, with the deep concrete balustrade of Isamu Noguchi symbolizing the future he passed through on his way to painting class. Older classmates from Hiroshima Kokutaiji High School, some of whom died young of radiation sickness, told Miyake about Noguchi, who became his hero (and later, his friend). Miyake thought he would die young too, so he took a chance on being a designer.
His sister’s magazine images interested him for clothing, but it was not a possible male subject of study in 1950s Japan, and to appease his father, he took graphic design classes at the Tokyo Tama University of the Arts. As a student, he wrote in 1960 to the secretariat of the World Design Conference, held in Japan that year, wanting to know why clothes were not part of his program.
There was nowhere to study couture, so once Japan allowed foreign travel on a shoestring budget, he traveled to Paris in 1965 to take a course at the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. and did an internship with Guy Laroche and Hubert de Givenchy. The significant Parisian education, however, was the student protests of 1968, revolted against the haute bourgeoisie, the habitual clientele of couture. Miyake sided with the students, wanting to create clothes that were both wilder and more useful for ordinary people, unconstrained by age, size, gender, or fit.
Miyake went to New York in 1969 as an assistant to Geoffrey Beene, to learn about mass production. But in 1970, another bout of radiation sickness sent him back to Tokyo for treatment, where friends lent him money to start Miyake Design Studio. In her remarkable debut show in Tokyo, a model stripped off many layers until she was naked, a scandal that alarmed her sponsors and highlighted her originality.
In 1973, he began to parade in Paris, distinctly different from the other Japanese designers who arrived there. His regular collections of sculpted high-end clothing were spectacular, but the real fun came with a shift in focus to volume-production ready-to-wear lines in the 1990s. They brought him closer to his ideal clientele and old fashioned.
In addition to the Reality Lab, “retired” Miyake established Japan’s first design museum, 21_21 Design Sight, in Tokyo with architect Tadao Ando, its wraparound steel roof based on a piece of fabric. Miyake’s own creations have been exhibited and collected by museums, including in London, New York and Paris. Japan awarded him its Order of Culture in 2010.
Miyake kept his childhood heartaches private until 2009, and kept his personal life secret: his closest companions were his co-workers, including studio president Midori Kitamura, a former model.