We celebrate the Japanese designer through the lexicon of his avant-garde style.
The pioneering Japanese experimental designer Issey Miyake passed away on 5 August 2022.
Referred to as the ‘Tailor of the Wind’, Miyake redefined geometry, the use of colour and a light, minimalist aesthetic to create an authentic and recognisable style, such that he deserves the appellation ‘eternal artist’.
He left an invaluable legacy, made up of creations with shapes studied to the thousandth, designed to express a perfect balance between form and colour.
We celebrate the Japanese master with the alphabet that defined his unique personal lexicon.
David Bowie in an Issey Miyake creation, 1973. Ph. by Masayoshi Sukita
A of A-Poc (A Piece of Cloth)
A-Poc is a second line Miyake brand born in 1998, which literally revolutionised the process of creating clothes, inaugurating a dialogue between the creator and the wearer.
It has introduced a new way of thinking about design to the fashion world, questioning design engineers, wearers and customers alike.
B of Body
Body Series is a collection of sculptural dresses produced by the Japanese designer between 1980 and 1985.
They involved the use of a series of avant-garde materials never before used in the textile industry, such as plastic, synthetic resins, rattan, metal wires and aluminium structures. A revolution that entire generations of designers would refer to.
C of Collaboration
Miyake‘s career has been studded with several collaborations, some truly legendary, with the world’s greatest artists, designers and creatives. These include those with: Irving Penn, Ikko Tanaka, Shiro Kuramata and Ron Arad, and more recently with the design brands Artemide and Iittala.
However, the designer has always been keen to emphasise that his real collaborators are those who wear his clothes.
“Designing clothes is not a solitary job, but requires the collaboration of many people”
Irving Penn Regards the Work of Issey Miyake – Bulfinch Press, 1999
D of Dance
In the late 1980s, a French friend of Issey‘s saw some of his works created with pleats, suggesting to the designer that they would be perfect for dance, and to make a collection dedicated to ballet.
Miyake designed costumes for William Forsythe’s Frankfurt Ballet Company with tricot polyester pleats for their performance of The Loss of Small Detail in 1991.
The folds of the knitted fabric were able to accommodate the intensity of the dancers’ movements and transform their bodies into something light and vanishing. The visual effect was so striking and beautiful that Miyake decided to develop a collection for ordinary people as well. 1993 saw the birth of Pleats Please.
E of East Meets West
Mikaye has always defined himself as straddling two cultures, East and West.
Growing up with early Hollywood films exported to Japan, his culture was influenced by American aesthetics, although he has always been proudly Japanese.
The designer also explained that, while working in Paris in the 1960s, he discovered that what was supposed to be a disadvantage – his lack of Western heritage – could actually be an advantage. He thus established himself as a meeting point between East and West, titling his monograph ‘East Meets West’ – Heibonsha Ltd., 1978, foreshadowing how over the years the two cultures would increasingly merge into a single stylistic language.
F of Fragrance
Miyake is also remembered for his iconic fragrances. The first, L’EAU D’ISSEY, from 1992, was inspired by the designer’s vision of transforming water into something material, usable.
Developed according to the same principles as clothing design, these fragrances were studied down to the smallest detail by the Miyake Design studio and Beaute prestige International in Paris and are, to this day, timeless perfumes.
G of Graphic Design
One of the best known collaborators of the Japanese designer was the graphic designer and art director Ikko Tanaka, who also created the graphic image of Muji.
Among the hundreds of book covers Tanaka has worked on is Issey Miyake‘s groundbreaking 1978 volume ‘East Meets West’.
The artist also created the entire Pleats Please advertising campaign between 1994 and 1997. The two collaborated until Tanaka’s death in 2002. Later, in 2016, the designer paid tribute to his friend with the ‘Ikko Tanaka Issey Miyake‘ series, a 1981 poster created for a Japanese dance performance at the University of California, and the 1995 poster The 200th Anniversary of Sharaku.
H of Hiroshima
Miyake, as almost everyone knows, was born in Hiroshima. Like many of his generation, he always wanted to avoid talking about the atomic bomb and shunned the definition of Pikadon’, i.e. a person who was traumatised by the intense flash of light at the time of the atomic bomb explosion.
However, he wanted to tell his story to raise awareness for future generations, and incite humanity towards dialogue and peace.
In 2009, Miyake himself wrote to then US President Obama, asking him to visit Hiroshima. The visit did not happen until 2016, and this was thanks to him.
I of Irving Penn
As a student in the 1960s, Miyake admired Irving Penn‘s photographic work in Vogue.
The two started working together in 1986 and in 1999 they published one of the most beautiful fashion and photography monographs of the modern era: ‘Irving Penn Regards Issey Miyake’.
The photographs are directly related to Penn’s famous ethnographic studies, just as the models reflect Miyake’s interest in a global culture.
J of Joy
What has always characterised Miyake’s work is an incurable optimism, which can also be detected in his interviews.
The designer adopted a positive mindset, which he expressed in his creations in the form of vibrant colour and ironic silhouettes.
“When people ask me what I do, I say I make happiness”. Issey Miyake
K of Kuramata
In the 1970s, Miyake identified the young designer Kuramata as an important talent, and asked him to design the first Issey Miyake shop in Tokyo in 1976.
Kuramata proposed to lay clothes on flat surfaces, designing a honeycomb aluminium sheet table with a wooden surface protruding from the wall, which seemed to float without any visible means of support.
Over the course of a decade and a half, Kuramata designed more than 100 interiors for Miyake.
On the occasion of the Shiro Kuramata Ettore Sottsass exhibition in 2011, Miyake declared: ‘my work would not be the same if I had not met Kuramata on my path’.
L of Lights
IN-EI, a Japanese term meaning shade or shadow in English, is a collection of lamps developed by Miyake in collaboration with Italian manufacturer Artemide.
IN-EI‘s folding shapes are structured in such a way as to make the light diffuse and gradual, while the fabric is made of polyester, entirely from recycled PET bottles.
M of Material
The Miyake Design Studio has always been a proponent of experimenting with alternative materials and recycling. The team has worked with new materials, natural or synthetic, to find ways to make them softer, shinier or more structured.
The result of this lengthy research led to the discovery and use of plastic fabrics and other materials never before used in the clothing industry, as raw materials for creation, ushering in a true revolution in the field of textile design.
N of Noguchi
Noguchi is a famous Japanese architect, designer of the Peace Bridge, a memorial for the victims of Hiroshima.
Miyake has always admired his work, studying his creations in great detail.
When he moved to Paris in 1965 to pursue a career in fashion, one of the few things he took with him was a photo of Noguchi.
In 1997 he finally realised his lifelong dream with the exhibition, Arizona: Isamu Noguchi and Issey Miyake, which included sculptures and lamps by Noguchi. The exhibition examined the intersection of American and Japanese culture, but was also, in part, a tribute to his mentor.
O of Origami
At the age of 72, Issey produced an incredible collection called Origami 132 5.
The capsule consisted of clothes made with a 3-D printer from sustainable fabrics made from recycled plastic bottles.
The absolute innovation was that just like origami, these clothes could be folded back on themselves several times, creating new geometries.
P of Pleats
When Miyake started working on the Pleats project, instead of focusing on how the clothes were made, he thought about how they were used.
He wanted to create garments that were light to wear and wash. At the end of the 1980s, he began research into pleating, continuing to research a new technique of folding fabric based on modern technology and engineering, creating a product that had never before been created in the fashion industry, or anywhere else.
Q of Quotes
R of Reality Lab
“The task of design is to turn concepts into reality”
The Reality Lab is a laboratory founded in 2007 with an 11-member team of both young experimenters and veteran engineers.
The first collection created by the lab was the 132 5 collection, from 2010, whose numerical name indicated how the pieces moved through various levels of dimensionality.
S of Skin
Part of the autumn-winter 1980 collection, Plastic Body was the first piece in Miyake’s Body series, a five-year effort to harness various traditional and modern technologies to transform clothing into a sculptural medium.
Made of moulded fibre reinforced plastic, Plastic Body is a standardised synthetic skin to be worn as a second skin.
T of Tattoo
In 1971, the designer presented the ‘Tattoo’ collection in New York, inspired by traditional Japanese tattoos, which are traditionally made as a tribute to the dead.
In this case, Miyake’s tattoos were in memory of music heroes such as Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin.
U of Ufo
Miyake’s multicoloured Flying Saucer dress, when worn, becomes a sculptural cocoon that drapes itself around the body; when stored, it has the shape of a multi-layered disc, folded in on itself.
The concept pays homage to the American sculptor Isamu Noguchi, whom Miyake credits with teaching him everything he knows about space and proportion.
V of Volume
Transforming surfaces into volumes has always been Miyake’s goal.
The striking poster for the spring-summer 1987 collection, photographed by Irving Penn and designed by Ikko Tanaka, features the Balloon mackintosh and the Bird’s Beak cotton cap.
A collection structured on volume, which entered fashion history.
W of Water
Waterfall Body is a bodice created partially from knitted fabric and silicone, draped over a mannequin and left to harden into a shape reminiscent of flowing water.
Aquatic inspirations have always been common in Miyake’s work: the curiosity for the element of water, the designer explained, is personal.
X of XXIc
Curated by Issey Miyake, the 2008 exhibition XXIst Century Man at 21_21 Design Sight in Tokyo presented the work of 11 architects, designers and artists, including Isamu Noguchi, Ron Arad, Nendo, Dai Fujiwara + Issey Miyake Creative Room and Yazou Hokama, as well as his own, to explore the environment and new technologies.
Y of Yokoo
Yokoo is an artist known for bringing pop and psychedelic influences to Japanese art. He met the designer in 1971 in New York at the first international exhibition of Miyake‘s work at the Japan Society.
Starting in 1977, Yokoo designed the invitations for all of Miyake‘s Parisian exhibitions, as well as creating prints for various collections.
The 2005 exhibition Issey Miyake Paris Collections 1977-1999: Invitations by Tadanori Yokoo presented the results of this long and fruitful creative collaboration.
Z of Zoomorphic
Miyake has always observed the animal world with great curiosity and based many of his iconic silhouettes on animals such as monkeys, swallows or starfish.
His autumn-winter 2001 Zoo A-POC collection, for instance, recalls quirky animals found nowhere else in the world. Other animals in the collection are an octopus, a monkey, a teddy bear and a panther.