Issey Miyake, who opened a door to Japanese fashion, dies at 84


Issey Miyake, one of the first Japanese designers to parade in Paris, whose pleated dress style allowed freedom of movement and whose name became a global synonym for avant-garde fashion in the 1980s, died in Tokyo on Friday. . He was 84 years old.

His death, in a hospital, was announced Tuesday by the Miyake Design Studio, which said the cause was liver cancer.

Mr Miyake’s designs have appeared everywhere, from morning to night, from factory floors – he designed a uniform for workers at Japanese electronics giant Sony – to black tie dances.

His insistence that clothing was a form of design was considered avant-garde in the early years of his career, and he had notable collaborations with photographers and architects. His designs found their way onto the 1982 cover of Artforum – unheard of for a fashion designer at the time – and into the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Mr. Miyake has been celebrated in Japan for creating a global brand that has contributed to the country’s efforts to become an international destination for fashion and pop culture. In 2010, he was awarded the Order of Culture, the country’s highest artistic honor.

And as one of the first Japanese designers to parade in Paris, he was part of a revolutionary wave of designers who took Japanese fashion to the rest of the world, eventually opening the door to contemporaries like Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo.

Mr. Miyake is perhaps best known for his micro pleats, which he began experimenting with around 1988, but which has recently seen a resurgence in popularity with new and younger consumers. He was driven by his fashion philosophy: as he said in his book “Pleats Please” (2012, edited by his associate Midori Kitamura), clothes “should grant freedom to those who wear them”.

Released in 1993, her Pleats Please clothing line, crafted from a nearly weightless polyester, featured cascades of razor-sharp concertina pleats offering the ease of loungewear. They have become her most recognizable look. To wear a Pleats Please piece was to discover a lack of bodily restraint and, with that, Mr Miyake hoped, a lack of emotional and creative inhibition.

Most Pleats Please garments had no buttons, zippers or snaps. There were no tight armholes or delineated waists. They slid over the body and were opaque enough to require minimal underwear – say, a bra and panties. The necklines were not deep enough to be revealing. Often Mr. Miyake used solid colors – blues, greens, crimson – or fabrics printed with flowers or tattoos.

And thanks to its exclusive heat treatment system, these garments never lost their shape: even rolled up in balls or knots, they would never be wrinkled or crushed, and they could be machine washed.

Their prototype was conceived in 1991, when Mr. Miyake collaborated with choreographer William Forsythe to design pleated costumes for a Frankfurt Ballet production of Mr. Forsythe’s “The Loss of Small Detail.” The male dancers wore the pants, then moved on to the dresses, the women vice versa. No matter what they wore, they were free to jump, spin, and glide.

But Mr. Miyake was more than tricks. Her Bao Bao bag, made from mesh fabric layered with small, colorful triangles of polyvinyl, has long been a go-to accessory for the creative industries. He also produced the black turtleneck that became part of the signature look of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.

In 1992, he launched L’eau d’Issey, a floral fragrance for women that ends with a woody scent of spring. The fragrance was created by Jaques Cavallier and the bottle was designed by M. Miyake (with Fabien Baron and Alain de Mourges) – a slender, minimalist, inverted glass cone with a matte silver top accented with an orb. It was inspired by Mr. Miyake’s glimpse of the moon rising over the Eiffel Tower one night in Paris.

Kazunaru Miyake was born on April 22, 1938. (Kazunaru’s character in Japanese script also reads as Issey, meaning one life.) He walked with a “pronounced limp”, Sheryl Garratt wrote in the British newspaper The Telegraph in 2010, following his survival from the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, his hometown, on August 6, 1945. At age 10, he developed bone marrow disease, Ms Garratt wrote, and his mother died of radiation poisoning.

“I was there, and I was only 7 years old,” Mr. Miyake wrote in an opinion essay in The New York Times in 2009. “When I close my eyes, I still see things that no one should never experience: bright red light, the black cloud soon after, people running in all directions desperately trying to escape. I remember everything.

Mr. Miyake rarely discussed that day – or other aspects of his personal history – “preferring to think of things that can be created, not destroyed, and that bring beauty and joy,” he wrote in the essay.

He graduated in 1963 from Tama Art University in Tokyo, where he majored in design because fashion was not offered as a course of study there.

In 1965 he moved to Paris, where he worked as an assistant to Guy La Roche and Givenchy. There, he witnessed the student protests of May 1968, which inspired him to make clothes for everyone, not just the elite.

“I seem to be present on occasions of great social change,” he reportedly said in the 2017 book “Where Issey Come From?” by Kazuko Koike. “Paris in May 68, Beijing at Tiananmen, New York on September 11. As a witness to history.

He spent time in New York, then founded the Miyake Design Studio in Tokyo in 1970.

He has often stressed that he does not consider himself “a fashion designer”.

“Everything ‘fashionable’ goes out of fashion too quickly,” he told Parisvoice magazine in 1998. “I don’t do fashion. I make clothes.

Interviewed by the Japanese daily The Yomiuri Shimbun in 2015, he said: “What I wanted to do was not clothes reserved for people who have money. It was things like jeans and t-shirts, things that were familiar to a lot of people, easy to wash and easy to use.

Yet he was perhaps best known as a designer whose styles combined the discipline of fashion with technology and artistry. In 2000, he presented another collection designed to simplify the making of clothes, to eliminate the need to cut and sew the fabric. With his “One Piece of Cloth” or “A-POC” concept, a single yarn could be fed into a computer-programmed industrial knitting or weaving machine. In a single process, the machine formed the components of a fully finished outfit, extruded into a single fabric tube. Clothing could be cut with scissors along the boundary lines. A tube of fabric could produce a dress, a hat and a blouse. Cut the fabric and a garment came out of it.

In collaboration with architect and product designer Ron Arad, Mr. Miyake created A-POC Trampoline, which was a knit jacket, pants and stole that could be used as a cover for the Ripple chair in the shape of a figure eight in a loop of M. Arad, exhibited in 2006 at the annual Salone del Mobile design fair in Milan.

A notoriously private person – information about his survivors was not immediately available – Mr Miyake was nonetheless known for his close relationships with long-time colleagues and collaborators, which he credited as key to his success. Ms. Kitamura, for example, started as a fit model in his studio, continued to work with him for nearly 50 years, and is now president of his design studio. Her collaboration with fashion photographer Irving Penn resulted in two books.

Throughout his life, “he never shied away from his love, the process of making things,” Mr Miyake’s office said in a statement.

“I’m mostly interested in people and the human form,” Mr. Miyake told The Times in 2014. “Clothes are the closest thing to all humans.”

Ben Doley and Hikari Hida contributed reporting from Tokyo.

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