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Practical, Innovative, Miyake

Issey Miyake, the Japanese designer famous for his innovative clothes, who made 100 turtlenecks for Apple founder Steve Jobs, among others, has died. Like Andy Warhol, Miyake was interested in the overlap between art and design and fashion. Throughout his 52-year career, the designer took an ‘anti-trend’ stance, always referring to his designs as ‘clothes’ rather than ‘fashion’.

After witnessing the student protests of 1968, Miyake became disillusioned with an industry that was only designed to dress the rich. So he founded the Miyake Design Studio in 1970, based on democratic but aesthetic criteria, and the following year he presented his first collection in New York. One of his earliest pieces was a leotard, hand-painted using traditional Japanese tattoo techniques. As an avid athlete, function became a mainstay of Miyake’s work. In 1992, Lithuania, which had just gained independence from the Soviet Union, asked Miyake to design the official Olympic uniform. His most famous and affordable clothes, the Pleats Please line, were released in 1993 as a response to the price and unwearability of high-end fashion. Featuring capes and trousers, as well as sleeveless tapestries made of heat-treated polyester to create permanent pleats, the garments were never wrinkled, machine washable and could be rolled up instead of folded. The collection was also one of the first examples of genderless dresses.

Over the years, it has drawn inspiration from a wide range of societies, cultures and everyday objects, including plastic, rattan, ‘washi’ paper, jute, horsehair, foil, yarn and wire. He has occasionally evoked Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, worked with Japanese painter Tadanori Yokoo, the Frankfurt Ballet, choreographer Maurice Béjart, furniture and interior designer Shiro Kuramata, potter Lucie Rie and photographer Irving Penn.

In an interview in 1983, Miyake outlined her opposition to the fashion cycle: ‘I want my customer to wear a sweater I designed 10 years ago with this year’s pants.’ Miyake saw technology as a solution to the problem of overproduction, and one such solution was the idea of the ‘One Piece of Cloth’ (later known as A-POC) in the late 90s, which pioneered the idea of making clothes from a single tube of fabric, reducing waste and showing exactly what could be done with a knitting machine, a computer and, of course, the right know-how.

Miyake is reluctant to give interviews and has avoided publicity because he is severely lame – he survived the atomic bomb dropped on his hometown of Hiroshima in 1945 when he was seven. Three years later, his mother died of radiation poisoning. In a New York Times opinion piece published in 2009, Miyake explained how that day and her mother’s subsequent death shaped her creativity. ‘I’ve tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to put the memories behind me and think instead of things that can be created, not destroyed, and that bring beauty and joy.’