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A Lifetime of Issey Miyake

By Sophie Dehn

As many of us are aware, an inspiration and fashion icon was taken from us on August 5th, 2022. Issey Miyake was an extraordinary designer best known for experimenting with both conventional and cutting-edge handcrafting methods. Miyake was originally born in Hiroshima, Japan, in 1938 and had no plans of becoming one of the most influential designers in the fashion industry. Originally, he had wanted to become a dancer as a child. However, Miyake first became conscious of design when he came across two bridges in the city center named Tsukuru and Yuku by Isamu Noguchi. He came to see that the power of design rested in enabling people to both be able to gaze at and cross the bridges. Known to be a voracious reader of his sister's fashion magazines, Miyake decided to enroll in the Tama Art University in Tokyo to study graphic design, concentrating on clothes as a form of design.  

Miyake's attention-grabbing emphasis on clothing as design rather than fashion inspired him to design and produce his own garments for Toray Industries, Inc. In 1964 he debuted his first collection, A Poem of Cloth and Stone, at the Tokyo Chamber of Commerce and Industry. He intended his first collection to demonstrate that clothing can be both merely functional objects and artistic creations. Subsequently, he moved to Paris and worked as an assistant under Guy Laroche and Givenchy. His career took off shortly after he completed his apprenticeships with both companies. He established his own studio in 1970 and was asked to feature in the first Paris ready-to-wear calendar in 1973.  

Between 1980 and 1985, Miyake developed the Body Series, a line of sculpture-like clothes that wraps the body and are made of tough materials that had never been utilized to make clothing, such as fiber-reinforced plastic, synthetic resins, rattan, and wire. For instance, the autumn-winter 1980 collection featured the plastic Body, and the spring-summer 1982 collection featured the rattan and bamboo Body, which was featured on the Artforum cover.  

The debut of Miyake's Pleats Please line in 1993, the heat-pressed plissé clothing collection that continues to be, along with its subsequent cousin Homme Plissé, enormously popular today, was the defining fashion aspect of his varied oeuvre. Pleats Please is the result of Miyake's 1991 creation of the costumes for a performance by William Forsythe's Frankfurt Ballet company, which featured his tricot pleats. Dancing and other dynamic movements would later become a signature of Miyake's refreshingly non-rigid show formats. 

Miyake's company, which has maintained its independence, has continued to create distinctive collections that have adhered to the founder's guiding principle of spreading joy. Technology in Motion, Miyake's ready-to-wear collection and show for Spring 1995, is one of his most recognizable creations. He reworked the conventional pleats and made Minaret dresses in the style of Paul Poiret's renowned lampshade dress and paper lanterns. The models bounced up and down on the runway as they went barefoot at a time when pastel-colored clothing was in vogue. 

During his time in the industry, he was able to open the door for Japanese fashion to a global audience. He was an innovator that can be written about for years to come. There are not enough words in this earth to describe the kind of impact he made on his followers and the fashion industry. While I could continue to write more about his accomplishments as a mentor, designer, friend, and artist, words simply cannot describe the impact Miyake had on fashion. Issey Miyake, creator of the world’s most famous black turtleneck, but also much, much more along the way, will be remembered as one of our period’s greatest designers—both within the realm of fashion design and beyond it.  

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