“This is not a time for fashion as we have known it,” said Issey Miyake to the New York Times nearly thirty six years ago. Not that the Japanese designer/artist/revolutionary has ever created anything to placate conventional standards of fashion, or, more precisely, thinking. Instead, the name Miyake has inspired its own rubric under which to operate, albeit one that defies any specific labeling (especially since Miyake himself hates labels.) His inspiration may be best likened to an adopted child, who, upon searching for his roots, realizes that his identity lies not just in where he is from, but rather where he is going. This process eternally repeats itself in the fashions of Miyake, making each collection another installment of a near thirty-year journey.
Graduating from Tokyo’s prestigious Tama Art University in 1964, Miyake immediately headed to Paris and the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture. Apprenticeships with legends Guy Laroche and Hubert de Givenchy followed, where Miyake learned the principles of cut and quality. More than that, though, Miyake learned Paris, “the city of ideas,” but in the wake of the student uprisings of the late 60’s fled for New York City. Serving as assistant to Geoffrey Beene in 1969, Miyake experienced the ultimate juxtaposition of Paris idealism to Seventh Avenue business. Fascinated, though, by America’s burgeoning jeans revolution, Miyake decided to return to Tokyo to develop its antithesis.
It was this return to his native Japan that marked Miyake’s first real turning point in the development of his identity as a designer. “[In Japan] I could begin at the beginning,” says Miyake, “I could create my own fabrics, and use materials only found in the East.” Miyake soon realized that he was bound neither to the western conventions of dressing nor to the rigidity of the haute couture, but could, in fact, marry western inspirations like the dada movement with the Japan intellectualism of which he was equally enthralled. The result was a universal fashion aesthetic that had never before been seen. Miyake’s free and floppy shapes, constructed out of traditional fabrics employed by the working classes of Japan, challenged fashion traditions the world over, and provided the spring board for which the rest of his career would flow.
After presenting his first collection at an indoor parking garage in Tokyo in 1970, the principals of the Miyake aesthetic emerged. For Miyake, fashion would address problems of form and function, and introduce clothing that created space between body and fabric. Further, Miyake employed fabric as the source of the design, intensely focusing on textile development and innovation. The economy of cut would also become paramount, as Miyake often times relied on one-piece folds of cloth to construct his garments, using wraps and ties as closures. Complicated as they may appear, Miyake’s designs maintain a raw simplicity. This “simplicity” leaves room for interpretation by the wearer of a Miyake piece, for as Miyake puts it, “Without the wearer’s ingenuity, my clothing isn’t clothing.”
Fourty five years, several stores worldwide, and the successful sister line Pleats Please later, finds Miyake still creating fashions that never goes out of style (not that he would produce anything that bore the evanescent resemblance to a trend.) Traces of Miyake’s influence are, though, periodically spotted in the work of other designers, such as Maria Cornejo’s Fall 2003 cocoon vests and Prada’s reproduction of past creations; Miyake was doing that in the 70’s. Remaining separate from the Japanese invasion of Paris in the 80’s by the likes of Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo (“Nationality is not necessary for creation” he was then quoted,) Miyake has always refused to be bound by any titles, fashion or otherwise. Rather, Miyake has consistently pushed his independent fashion philosophy to the limit, never creating for the passive customer who expects a ready made look every season. “I feel the need for clothing that liberates both the mind and body,” says Miyake, “especially when so many perceptions are stagnant.”