On Aug. 5, prolific fashion designer and creator Issey Miyake passed away at age 84 from liver cancer. Known for his subtle yet pronounced craftsmanship, Miyake was a pioneer for a more thoughtful construction of clothing and was one of the first Japanese designers to showcase work in Paris.
Beyond his extensive success as a designer, Miyake had a deep respect for the relationship between textiles, clothing and the body. His inspiration stems back to his adolescence in Japan where he attended Tama Art University for graphic design and advocated for clothing as design, rather than fashion. Upon finishing school he moved to Paris and served as an apprentice for notable designers such as Hubert de Givenchy and Guy Laroche.
Born in Hiroshima in 1938, Miyake survived the dropping of the atomic bomb in 1945, which inevitably shaped his adolescence. Following the loss of his mother from the blast, Miyake maintained his optimism and claimed he would rather “create something new than destroy.”
While this quote from Miyake may not explicitly encapsulate the designer’s legacy, it does speak to his ferocity. Miyake’s vision was well before its time; in the 1980s, he launched the brand Plantation, which was designed to create clothing for all genders that experimented with materials such as plastics, paper and wire. His Bao Bao accessories line, known for its famed Bao Bag, featured futuristic triangular lines and sturdier textiles.
Miyake represents what fashion should be like today. There is something about the fashion world in 2022 that is incredibly overbearing. The industry and its current direction is loud and obnoxious. With every opinionated TikTok video and scandalous Business of Fashion article, fashion shifts into a craft focused on virality rather than boundary-breaking innovation.
Miyake’s designs radiated a detailed simplicity that spoke for itself, starkly contrasting the majority of contemporary designs. Take Steve Jobs’ turtleneck, for example — one of Miyake’s classic pieces. Something so simple, practical and functional was somehow crafted better than every other black turtleneck. Vanessa Friedman from The New York Times explains, “Little wonder, really, that Issey Miyake was Steve Jobs’ favorite designer.”
This is because Miyake had an eye for reconstructing fashion, much like Jobs’ eye for reconstructing technology. Though he returned to the basics, Miyake completely reimagined what could be considered fashion. Miyake was an innovator in fashion technology, working with textiles, avant-garde figures and the contortion of clothing around the body.
Miyake’s 1993 “Pleats Please” collection embodies his values and visions for design. The collection was made out of weightless polyester and sculpted seamless, accordionlike lining into the fabric of multicolored tops, dresses, skirts and pants. Interestingly, the prototype for these designs came out of Miyake’s collaboration with William Forsythe for a production at the Frankfurt Ballet. These garments required minimal care and are meant to last a lifetime, further illuminating Miyake’s care for fashion beyond its aesthetics.
A Miyake piece demonstrates his deep love for design and breaking tradition. In the 1980s, ingenious model and singer Grace Jones worked with Miyake and wore one of his designs on the cover of her 1980 album, Warm Leatherette — a deep V-neck long-sleeve shirt with satin fabric and large puff sleeves. The late and lovely Robin Williams also wore Miyake to the premiere of the film “Flubber,” sporting a black cargo-esque jacket with purple accents on the pockets and buttons. Recently, Kim Kardashian has been spotted wearing vintage Miyake, and Joni Mitchell even wore his look to the 2022 Grammys. From models to comedians, Miyake made clothing for everybody.
In all of these looks, and in a plethora of Miyake’s lookbooks, there is no mark of the designer — perhaps with the exception of pleats. Regardless, each design was completely its own and came to life with the help of whoever was wearing it. Miyake was a champion for making clothes that would accurately encapsulate the identity of the person wearing the piece, something that is rarely the case in modern style.
In his 2020 Spring Summer collection presented at Paris Fashion Week, the models on the runway showcased bold yellow, orange and pink pieces.. Toward the end of the show, models came out in nude-toned shapewear and opened their arms as a large hoop came down from the sky to dress them. This show was one of Miyake’s more recent spectacles and illuminated his house’s incredible vision.
Issey Miyake will leave a legacy like no other. His gentle approach to design and technological eye created some of the most incredible avant-garde looks to date. His focus on people-first fashion inspired a new purpose for design, one that connected the gap between the body and fashion.