I observe that Issey Miyake the Japanese fashion designer desires not so much to transgress boundaries in his clothing design as to maintain them as transparent walls.
An Issey Miyake design is neither wholly Eastern nor Western; his garments seem to simultaneously inhabit different temporal and geographic spaces. A piece (for Miyake’s clothing begs one to refer to them as art pieces) may look futuristic, but it is also rooted in the ancient feudal tradition of Japan’s samurai warriors.
Born in Hiroshima in 1938, Miyake was seven years old in August 1945, when his mother, suffered serious burns during U.S atomic bombing, lived another four years after the attack. The American occupation of Japan gave Miyake a first-hand view of what the west had to offer – Marilyn Monroe, Mickey Mouse, TV, Frozen Diners – and is surely a source of Miyake’s East-meets-West aesthetic.

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In 1959 Miyake enrolled as a graphic arts student at Tokyo’s prestigious Tama Art University. His true desire, however was to study fashion design, and in 1965 he went to Paris, where he studied at Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne, and learned the ropes under French couturiers Guy Laroche and Hubert de Givenchy.
At the Miyake design studio, a kind of laboratory the designer opened in Tokyo in 1970, he researched fabrics and design techniques, producing innovations like moulded plastic bustiers and clothes made out of oilcloth. Using a 5th century Japanese peasant technique to distress hemp like material, Miyake was able to create full bodied flowing forms that still described the body’s natural contours.
Miyake also pioneered a polyester jersey fabric, which, cut in squares and other geometric forms, enveloped the body in what he like to call a “ second skin”.
Issey Miyake continued his radical design philosophy into the 80s but his clothes became more practical. He opened the “Plantation” store in Paris in 1981, selling affordable clothes in natural fibres designed for “real living”. The pleating that has become his signature look first surfaced in the 90s. During this period Issey Miyake designed the official pleated jackets worn by the Lithuanian Olympic team at 1992 Barcelona Olympics and produced the “Pleats Please” spring and summer collection in 1994.
In Issey Miyake’s three decades in design, he has worked at the intersection of art and fashion, nature and technology, innovation and tradition and notably, East and West.
It may have been one of the fashion world’s more bizarre recent happenings. On a cold evening in Paris, several hundred people gathered on the lawn of the Cartier foundation art gallery, where they watched Chinese artist Cai Guo_Qiang sprinkle gunpowder over an assortment of dresses, trousers and t-shirts created by Issey Miyake. Cai then lit a fuse, and it all exploded like a string of firecrackers. The clothes riddled with holes and burn stains, were then put on display in the Cartier gallery along with other examples of Miyake’s collaborative efforts with artists.
In Issey Miyake’s own words “I had chosen one idea “express energy”. Cai proposed to burn a design of a dragon on my pleats please, with gunpowder. In China, the dragon is a symbol of energy, and gunpowder is energy.
I made the clothes according to how Cai was going to use them. He laid 65 items on the floor, in the shape of a dragon. Then he put gunpowder on them, covered the gunpowder with cardboard stencils also in the shape of a dragon. He lit the fuse at the end of a trail of 65 garments. In 2 or 3 seconds you could see the result, each piece of clothing has a mark of a dragon.
“ I have always considered my job as a new way of making things. Creating new fabrics or coming up with a new technique or process, going forward, looking for new possibilities.”
Issey Miyake does not tend to go back in time or history to him the weight of the fabric on the body makes the shaped. He has never used crinoline or corsets or padding to force shapes.
Issey Miyake tends to have a different expression and process, and tends to have a different way of looking at and understanding clothes. He also does not seem to be constricted by the traditional rules of French couture. He also seems not to concern himself with current trends.
He seem to be more detached from the normal concept of clothes, which allows him not to be confined by current trends and colours which so often dictate a designers collection, also allowing him to fully exploit the fabric and the design possibilities.
When asked is fashion and art? Issey Miyake replied “No I’m disturbed when people call me an artist. When I make something it’s only half finished. When people use it for years and years then its finished. The pleasure comes when people use my clothes. I may work with artists, but what I do is make things to be used, not looked at, like a picture or sculpture. You can not use art.”
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