Issey Miyake Report
By Alyssa Advano & Shiela Youssefi
Issey Miyake has become one of the world’s most influential designers showcasing innovative techniques for over 45 years. The 77-year-old designer extraordinaire has built his empire from the ground up and remains a prominent figure today as an advocate for sustainability and simplicity in the fashion world. His way of combining fashion, art and technology is unique and innovative. Miyake approaches fashion design with an open mind and understands that in order to succeed, one must incorporate all aspects of life into design. Thus his approach to fashion design is actually more in tune with that of a product designer. Furthermore, to understand the realm of Miyake’s success, and creativity this report will showcase the designer's effect on the fashion industry as a whole as well as delve into his personal aesthetic and how they have evolved since the beginning of his career to date.
The Life Issey Miyake and his Empire
Issey Miyake was born April 22nd 1938 as Miyake Kazumaru in Hiroshima Japan (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Brittanica). However, the designer did not have an easy life. In 1945 at the age of 7, Miyake was on his way to his classroom after a school assembly when he felt the ground shake with a loud bang. Little to his knowledge he had just become a survivor of the bombing at Hiroshima (Blanchard). “When I close my eyes, I still see things no one should ever experience: a bright red light, the black cloud soon after, people running in every direction trying desperately to escape - I remember it all," said Miyake (Miligan). When he finally found his mother later that day at his home, she immediately told him to leave for the countryside to save him from the effects of the bomb, but it was too late. To this day Miyake walks with a limp as a result of the bomb, and he lost his mother within three years due to radiation exposure (Blanchard). Yet Miyake doesn’t dwell on the past, in fact, he believes his career in fashion design became a reality because of his experiences of that day. Miyake prefers to "think of things that can be created, not destroyed, and that bring beauty and joy," and thus fashion was the perfect fit as he “gravitated toward the field of clothing design, partly because it is a creative format that is modern and optimistic." (Miligan)
Miyake went on to study graphic design at the Tama Art University in Tokyo and then moved to Paris in 1965 where he studied at École de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne, a university known for tailoring and dressmaking (The Editors of Encylopaedia Brittanica). Yet his career didn’t actually begin until 1966 when Miyake worked behind the scenes, for now, world-famous designers Hubert de Givenchy, Guy Laroche, and Geoffrey Beene. In 1970, after learning the tricks of the trade, Miyake returned to Japan and founded the Miyake Design Studio, “a specialist female fashion design studio,” (Success Story) and in 1971 Issey Miyake International established itself as a manufacturing wholesale and retail company. (Issey Miyake Inc) In 1973 Miyake displayed his first independent collection in a Paris fashion show where he showcased his now trademark layered and wrap look. From that collection, the designer became well known for being unlike the over-the-top designers prevalent in the European market, as instead of focusing on flamboyancy, he focused on observing how technology was changing the way people interacted with the world and thus implemented those ideas into his designs (Success Story). Finally, in March of 1974 the first Issey Miyake store opened in Tokyo (Issey Miyake Inc).
Miyake’s designs soon developed an international presence, so much so that Bloomingdales, a department store based in New York, created an entire section of the store dedicated to showcasing Miyake’s designs, particularly, his “East meets West” look which included T-shirts dyed with Japanese tattoo designs and coats that were made using the sashiko technique. The technique reflected the designer’s ideals as it strengthens fabric to make it more durable which increases the quality and longevity of the product. By the 1980s Miyake was presenting his bold yet unique and simple designs in Paris Fashion Week.
Throughout the years Miyake has won multiple awards for his influence in the fashion industry including the Praemium Imperiale by the Japan Arts Association for outstanding achievement in the arts. In 2006 he became the first ever designer to receive the Kyoto Prize in Arts and Philosophy for lifetime achievement. (The Editors of Encyclopedia Brittanica)
The Different Ventures of Issey Miyake
Today Issey Miyake has grown his brand into 12 different sections, one of the most interesting is the Issey Miyake collection focusing on “a piece of cloth,” or A-POC, which is a fabric made from a single thread weaved using an industrial machine programmed by a computer. The technique was created through a collaboration with textile expert Dai Fujiwara and was developed ten years before its commercial launch in 1999. However, even when the collection went to market Miyake refused to have his name associated with the pieces as he believed it was an ensemble piece and thus sold it as a long tube of jersey that the customers had to cut and create themselves rather than a pre-made garment (The Editors of Encylopaedia Brittanica).
Furthermore, the company has delved into using techniques from all over the world to create pieces that are both aesthetic but focus primarily on the quality and concept behind the product. Haat is a collection designed by Issey Miyake using crafting techniques from India and Japan, to create pieces that are long-lasting, simple and focus on the textiles. It began in 2000 and surrounded the concept of three words. “Haat” which is the word for village in Sanskrit, showcasing the idea that the collection is bringing together borders through technology, “Heart,” in English, representing the love that went into developing the textiles and finally the third “Haath,” meaning hands in Hindi reflecting the bond of the Indian and Japanese craftsman involved in the collection (Issey Miyake Inc).
However, the most universally recognized ventures by the Issey Miyake brand is the Bao Bao bag constructed of triangle pieces to create a bag that changes flat surfaces into three-dimensional ones. The bag uses design as an art form, thus being true to the Issey Miyake style, as it consistently changes leaving the wearer with a new and fun way to view the bag each time it is worn or moved. (Issey Miyake Inc.)
The Inspirations of Issey Miyake
“I have never called myself a fashion designer,” says Miyake, “I'm fascinated by all fields of design. Design as an approach to society, people, life. Even if it looks like what I have done has become fashionable, fashion to me is like the wind; I like to stay constant. I put my mind to making a product that people enjoy,’” (Ross). This statement perfectly reflects the ideas of Miyake, who approaches fashion design as a product designer and focuses on research, practicality, and making technology better rather than simply aesthetic. He is inspired by people and social behaviors and therefore it is not surprising that many of his works are the results of collaboration. Furthermore, the designer is not hung up on the new and rather sticks with what works as shown through his collections remaining relatively consistent over the years. He only introduces a new product if it’s perfect, and almost always showcases a new and innovative technique/ approach to fashion when he does, such as the unfolding garments for his line 132 5, that unravel at the pull of a single hem. His focus has always been garment construction, leaving the garments aesthetic to be second priority, in fact, most of his clothing is relatively simple in concept and has very few, if any, seams thus showing his eye for construction and the reason he has become known as the father of Japanese Fashion. “I am most interested in people and the human form,” says Miyake, “Clothing is the closest thing to all humans.” (Foreman)
Historical Fashion Moments
In the late 1980s Miyake began to experiment with new methods of pleating that were innovative. This pleating technique would allow both flexibility of movement for the wearer as well as ease of care and production. Unlike many other fashion designers, as mentioned previously Miyake had little interest in the flamboyant designs of the European labels. He instead favored looking at how the world was changing – how science was shaping the subculture around him – and put its developments into his work. Miyake’s work is inspired by both machinery and electronics. He coined the system “Pleats Please” and turned it into one of the key developments in fashion through the 1980’s and 1990s. Blanchard (Foreman) wrote in an article for The Guardian, Issey Miyake: 45 Years at the Forefront of Fashion that, “these are clothes that are made from polyester and can be machine washed, rolled up in a suitcase and unpacked to look as crisp and springy as they did when you unpacked them; they are light; ageless, trans-seasonal, cross-cultural, ambisexual, and don’t cost a fortune.” Miyake’s secret to his success within the industry is not that he has embraced technology, more that he has managed to use it in a way that combines innovative – the industrial and the digital – with the most basic fundamentals of craft.
Miyake’s designs were featured in an exhibition at the Costume Institute in New York, Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology, and among many garments that were on display, including the SS94 flying-saucer dress and the original 1999 A-POC (a piece of cloth) which has as mentioned previously, has become part of an entire section of the brand. Blanchard notes, “the A-POC, in particular, is the perfect fusion of computer technology, and basic knitting machine. With his textile engineer at the time, Dai Fujiwara, Miyake worked out a way to create clothing that is knitted from a single strand of a thread without the need for additional sewing or cutting. It is an industrialized process that eliminates the final cutting and sewing. This piece in particular along with his others have an aura about them, his incorporation of color, shape, evolving innovation, and a keen interest in textiles are what make his work of art quite exceptional.
Ready-to-Wear Collection and Collaborations
Miyake wrote The New York Times in response to an interview, “my work has always been a team process: made up of collaborations with the staff within the studio... I feel that you always see things in a different way when you allow others to become part of a creative process.” A successful designer is one that understands the use of other creative artist’s skills and is willing to open their mind to different possibilities. For Miyake to expand his creativity, he ventured off into creating a line of accessories, handbags, and perfume, while also collaborating with many other designers, and artist to achieve unique collections. One of his earliest collaborations was a jersey body from 1970 that was hand-painted using traditional Japanese tattoo techniques with a portrait of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin; the print was created by one of Miyake’s longest-term collaborates, Makiko Minagawa. Recently, Miyake Design Studio worked with the archive of the lake Japanese graphic designer and Muji co-founder Ikko Tanaka, using an image from his 1981 poster of Nihon Buyo dance for a collection of “Pleats Please” clothes and accessories. However, his most famous collaboration was with American photographer Irving Penn when they met in 1986. Vogue wrote that “Penn who photographed Issey Miyake’s advertising campaigns over the next 13 years, producing over 250 frames that were later compiled into seven volumes of the label’s photographic history.” Midori Kitamura who was Miyake’s “right-hand women” also known as his press officer at the time (now president of the company), recalls, “Penn shot for Vogue, where the clothing should be shown in a very formal way, but in our case, he was completely free.” Kitamura’s job was to select pieces for the exhibition from thousands in their archive, she says that Miyake kept everything from the beginning, anticipating, perhaps, their importance.
Miyake’s team continues to innovate and grow its product range. Similar to what many other fashion designers do, he has a collection of perfumes. His debut fragrance, L’eau d’Issey for females with a light floral aquatic scent was introduced in 1992. The bottle is designed by Miyake and is influenced by a view of the Eiffel Tower and the moon from his apartment in Paris. In 2012, Miyake was included among the co-directors of Japan’s first museum of design 2121 DESIGN SIGHT. Issey Miyake heads the center along with four other designers, and The Miyake Issey Foundation operates it. Apart from this, Miyake has a good friendship with Steve Jobs of Apple Inc., and produced noir turtlenecks that became a standardized and signature attire worn by Jobs. Jobs asked Miyake to make a few versions, and instead, he made approximately a hundred pieces of this style.
Issey Miyake Art and Technology
Foreman from The New York Times acknowledges Miyake’s achievements, and his exceptional skill at combining art with fashion in an article, Issey Miyake’s 50 years of Making Connections, where she states “Mr. Miyake understood far earlier than most the value of incorporating the disciplines of technology and art in his work. Indeed, he has been exploring the connections among the sectors for close to half a century.” It is clear that Miyake has centered his whole life on perfecting the combination of technology and fashion, and how to incorporate it with his collections. In the article Miyake explains his reasoning for combining art and fashion, “Today, it is accepted that all design intersects, there are no boundaries between art, design and other creative activities and they all intersect, all of my work stems from the simplest of ideas that go back to the earliest civilizations” says Miyake, “Making clothing from one piece of cloth. It is my touchstone. I believe that all forms of creativity are related.” Certainly, Miyake has succeeded beyond expectations, as he clearly understands that fashion is a part of the fine art world and everything in between it. His incorporation of fashion, technology, and art is something quite difficult that many other designers might find intimidating. Valerie Steel, the director and chief curator of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, addresses Miyake’s creative skills, “The designer certainly has been a pioneer in matching fashion with art…long before Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton began doing this, Issey Miyake was collaborating with artists.”
The Future of the Company
In 1999, Issey Miyake handed over the design of his men and women’s ready-to-wear lines to Naoki Takizawa to free up his time to concentrate on other collections. From 2000 onwards Miyake launched new projects including Haat, a ready-to-wear women’s collection, followed by Cauliflower a one-size-fits-all t-shirt in 2001, Issey Miyake Fete, a colorful and asymmetrical women’s line in 2004. Dai Fujiwara took over from Naoki Takizawa in 2007, who in turn was succeeded by Yoshiyuki Myamae in 2011. In 2007 he launched his Reality Lab. “It’s quite amazing to see Japanese technology…. We develop many different things, but happily, I have a great team of designers,” says Miyake, “I am going to let them get on with it, and this way I can be free to explore.” He has a team of young designers that he continues to work with every day, he still oversees the creative output of all 12 design studio brands, is director of his museum, and has a direct hand in the Reality Lab. His company is and will continue to be a success due to his determination, and hands-on attitude towards not only his company but also his drive to continue growing the fashion industry. Miyake states “I do always try to go forward and for that end I tarn my mind and constantly work on research and development.”
Issey Miyake is and will always be an influencer in the fashion world because of his unique aesthetic of clothing that is simple in a conceptual sense but focuses on technology, innovation, and quality. Each piece and each collection he creates is unique in its own right but always focuses on the humanity behind the clothing. As an artist he uses other creators with the same or similar understanding that fashion isn’t just clothing it’s about art, technology, and people, to create work that is a collaborative effort and thus is successful because it includes the opinions and views of more than one culture and person. Miyake will continue to be a success due to his drive and determination to move the entirety of the fashion industry forward through the utilization of people and the ever-changing environment.
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