Japanese fashion designer Issey Miyake, whose bulky, deconstructed clothes both defined the 1980s and contrasted with the excess that characterized the decade, died of liver cancer on August 5 in Tokyo at the eighty-four years old. Miyake’s clothes went from wildly inventive, as evidenced by the tiny, sharp pleats that characterized many of his garments, to austere classic, epitomized by the black turtleneck that would serve as the co-founder’s signature outfit for decades. Apple, Steve Jobs. An early proponent of the concept of fashion design as both an art form and a kind of architecture, he counted among his influences Isamu Noguchi, Constantin Brancusi and Alberto Giacometti. At a time when fashion and art were often seen as entirely separate practices, Miyake notoriously wired the cover of art forum with an outfit that Ingrid Sischy and Germano Celant in the editorial of the 1982 issue present as “a loaded mnemonic device representing the event and the cumulative information. The fashion elements, of course, are there,” they wrote. “The same goes for the kind of dialogue with the past and the future, with the position of the individual within a technocracy, which characterizes the mass avant-garde.”
Issey Miyake was born on April 22, 1938 in Hiroshima, Japan. Following the August 6, 1945 American bombardment of the city during World War II, he was limping from the age of seven; at the age of ten, he lost his mother to radiation poisoning. His dancing dreams shattered by his injury, Miyake instead turned to his sister’s fashion magazines, which informed his early interest in clothing design. After obtaining a degree in graphic design from the Tama Art University in Tokyo in 1964, he moved to Paris. Through the organization of fashion professions in the city, he apprenticed with the couturier Guy Laroche and then took a job as a designer for Hubert de Givenchy. In 1969, he moved to New York, where his encounters with artists such as Christo and Robert Rauschenberg further shed light on the architectural and artistic aspect of his clothing. After a year spent studying English at Columbia University and working for Geoffrey Beene in designer Seventh Avenue’s studio, he returned to Tokyo, where he founded the Miyake Design Studio.
His early designs, although very minimalist, featured the wrapped and layered look that would become one of his signatures. In 1973, he became one of the first Japanese designers to parade in Paris and is therefore credited with paving the way for later contemporaries like Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto. In 1988 he produced his first micro-pleated garments, which retained their shape through a technique in which the fabric was pleated after being cut and sewn, in a reverse process to the typical process, in which the fabric would be pleated before use. Miyake patented this method in 1993, when he launched his famous Pleats Please line. He often works in polyester jersey, a lightweight, inexpensive fabric that resists wrinkling. Once formed into its signature micro pleats, the material seemed to cascade from the body. Rumor had it that model Tina Chow carried one of her dresses crumpled up in her purse to slip into when she was done working.
Other groundbreaking designs include 1998’s A-POC (“A Piece of Cloth”), a tube of jersey created from a single yarn through the use of a computer-programmed knitting or weaving machine. . The wearer was invited to cut and shape the tube as he wished. Miyake launched the best-selling fragrance L’Eau d’Issey in 1992. The first in a series of perfumes and colognes he would release, he was inspired by water and sparked a craze for sea-scented perfumes.
Miyake’s work has remained inextricably linked to the arts. Between 1996 and 1999, he collaborated in various ways with Yasumasa Morimura, Nobuyoshi Araki, Tim Hawkinson and Cai Guo-Qiang on his Guest Artist series, which sought to create what he described as an “interactive relationship” between art and the wearer. In 2008, Miyake’s flagship New York TriBeCa store, which already houses a massive titanium sculpture by store designer Frank Gehry, hosted “Metal Shop” as part of Performa that year.
Decorated for his efforts in almost every field in which he has worked, Miyake received the Wexner Prize in 2004 and the Japan Art Association’s Praemium Imperiale for sculpture in 2005; the following year, he won the Arts and Philosophy Kyoto Prize, Japan’s most prestigious private award for lifetime achievement in the arts and sciences. In 2010 he was awarded Japan’s Order of Culture, the country’s highest artistic honor, and in 2014 he won Italy’s Compasso D’Oro, which recognizes outstanding achievement in industrial design. The National Art Center in Tokyo paid homage to him with a retrospective in 2016; his work is held in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.