Issey Miyake, ground-breaking Japanese fashion designer and favourite of museum costume institutes, has died, aged 84

After surviving the atomic bombing of Hiroshima as a child, Miyake returned to clothing as a modern, optimistic form of creativity, rediscovering the use of pleats to create wearable, free-flowing unisex clothing.

Issey Miyake, one of the leading fashion designers of the late 20th century, has died at the age of 84.

Miyake is the new leader of a diverse group of Japanese designers who have changed the face of haute couture and high-street wear over the past four decades, helping to make contemporary fashion a staple.

Issey Miyake

Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto, Rei Kawakubo, Junior Watanabe and the late Kenzo Takada brought to their clothes – each in their own way – a combination of minimalist calm and historically informed couturier’s craft that was underpinned by a respect for structural beauty. kimono and the power of traditional Japanese calligraphy and tattooing.

In the eighties, Miyake’s work in particular acted as a picturesque and wearable antidote to the mundane world of fashion and entertainment, which was dominated by permatanized padded shoulders, bold colors and big hair.

Miyake made a name for himself as a master of pleats – reviving the lost art that Mariano Fortuny had perfected in silk in the 1930s – most notably in his 1994 Flying Saucer dress, which was seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s delayed 150th anniversary of Covid.

exhibition About Time: Fashion and Duration in 2020 But Miyake, ignoring the cost and impracticality of haute couture, took this part of his work to the high street in 1993 with his Pleats Please clothes – now collectibles – which use heat-treated polyester. to create truly unisex, permanently pleated, loose-fitting, one-size-fits-all clothing.

Issey Miyake

In 1997, Miyake created another customer-friendly concept, “A Piece of Cloth” (A-POC), which allowed people to make their own clothes from a tube of cloth by cutting into pre-knitted dotted seams.

Miyake made another headline when he trademarked Apple co-founder Steve Jobs’ polyester and cotton turtleneck, a piece of clothing that has become as trademark for the world’s biggest technology company as the bitten apple logo and the curve in one corner. iPhone device.

On a trip to Japan in the 1980s, Jobs admired the practical elegance of the gray uniforms worn by Sony workers and was told by company boss Akio Morita that Miyake had designed them. .

Jobs wasn’t too keen when he suggested Apple employees could wear something similar, but the initiative paid off, as Jobs explained to his biographer Walter Isaacson: “I asked Issey to make me some of his black turtlenecks that I wanted, and he a hundred have happened to me… I have enough to last me a lifetime.’

Issey Miyake

Miyake was born in Hiroshima, Japan in 1938. He survived when the US Air Force dropped an atomic bomb on the city on August 6, 1945 at school, but his mother died three years later of radiation sickness.

In 2009, Miyake, who had long balked at being called a “designer who survived the atomic bomb,” wrote a powerful New York Times op-ed about his experience in which former US President Barack Obama encouraged the city to demonstrate its commitment to nuclear disarmament.

“When I close my eyes,” Miyake wrote, “I still see things that no one else can: a bright red light, a black cloud behind it, people running in every direction trying to escape.”

In the same article, he showed how this traumatic experience made him determined to enjoy himself. “I was attracted to the field of fashion design,” he wrote, “in part because it is a creative format that is modern and optimistic.”

Issey Miyake

He studied design in Tokyo before moving to Paris in the 1960s, where he worked with designers Guy Laroche and Hubert de Givenchy. He founded the Miyake Design Studio in Tokyo in 1970 and showed his first collection in New York the following year.

Miyake has a long association with art and artists. In Paris he discovered and admired the work of Alberto Giacometti and Constantino Brancusi. In New York in the late 1960s, he became friends with Robert Rauschenberg and Christ.

He became a great admirer of the Viennese-born British ceramist Lucia Rie, whose work he came across by chance while opening a book on ceramics in a London bookshop.

In 1989, he organized the exhibition Issey Miyake Meets Lucie Rie in Tokyo and Osaka, describing it as a tribute to the emotional connection he felt with the artist. “I was surprised that Lucia’s work, largely unknown at the time, was so well received,” Miyake told Vogue.

“Each piece is shown floating on top of a large rectangular pool.” One of Miyake’s 1989/90 collections featured coats with several sets of multicolored stone buttons made by Rie during World War II.

When Rie died in 1995, Miyake left her collection of ceramic buttons. Between 1996 and 1998, Miyake ran a Guest Artist series in which contemporary artists, starting with Yasumasa Morimura, used his solid Pleats Please clothing as a canvas.

Morimura’s work creates a detailed yet daring relationship with the nude figure at the heart of Jean Auguste Dominique Ingrese’s painting La Source from 1856.

For Miyake, the point is that the work is not complete until this artfully printed jersey dress is worn by a third party. “When I make something,” he said, “it’s only half done. If people use it—for years and years—then it’s done.”

In 1997, Miyake divested his company’s business, which became perfumes – including L’eau d’Issey – and other goods, to focus on research into new substances and techniques in production, guided by his interest in connection. between technology and creativity.

In addition to the Met, his garments are housed in institutions including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, and the Denver Art Museum, where pieces by Miyake and Yamamoto hang alongside the traditional ones.

Issey Miyake

The cool elegance of Miyake’s creations lends itself to photography. And the first 15 years of his studio’s production were captured in the very cool monograph Issey Miyake & Miyake Design Studio 1970-1985 (Works Words Years) (1985).

A retrospective of his work was held at the National Art Center in Tokyo in 2016, covering 45 years of his design work.

The positive trait that first attracted Miyake to making clothes as something modern and optimistic remained in him.

“Dress means hifuku in Japanese,” he said, “then hifuku means happiness. And maybe I’m trying to create hifuku, happiness, for people.

Issey Miyake; born in Hiroshima on April 22, 1938; died in Tokyo on August 5, 2022.

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