In 2014, the renowned architect Zaha Hadid expressed her admiration for Issey Miyake garments, emphasizing that they transformed from mere clothing on display in stores to something animated when worn. This sentiment encapsulated the essence of Miyake’s designs—blending form and function seamlessly.
Another notable fan of Issey Miyake was Steve Jobs, the visionary founder of Apple. Jobs first encountered Miyake’s work when he saw the uniforms the designer had created for Sony employees. Although Jobs’ idea of commissioning Miyake to create vests for his team was declined, Miyake did craft the iconic black turtleneck that became Jobs’ signature look. Jobs once remarked, “I asked Issey to make me some of his black turtlenecks that I liked, and he made me 100 of them.”
Issey Miyake, who passed away on August 5 at the age of 84, established his label over 50 years ago, and it continues to have a dedicated following. His clothing was known for making a bold statement while remaining effortlessly wearable.
Worn by famous figures from Grace Jones in the 1980s to Meryl Streep and Kim Kardashian, Miyake is best known for his sculptural pleated garments. He bridged the worlds of art and fashion, seamlessly blending Eastern and Western cultures with a touch of technical innovation. In recognition of his contributions, he received the Order of Culture in Japan in 2010 and the French Légion d’Honneur in 2016.
Miyake’s fascination with pleats began in the 1980s, leading to the launch of his Pleats Please line in 1993. Born in 1938, Miyake was seven years old when the atomic bomb was dropped on his hometown of Hiroshima. He rarely spoke about this traumatic event, not wanting to be defined as the designer who survived it. However, in 2009, he felt a responsibility to discuss it publicly. In an opinion piece for The New York Times, he described the horrifying experience: “When I shut my eyes, I still see things no one should ever experience: a bright red light, the black cloud soon after, people running in every direction trying desperately to escape.” Within three years of the blast, his mother succumbed to radiation exposure.
Miyake studied graphic design in Tokyo and moved to Paris two years after his graduation in 1963, where he worked as an assistant to renowned designers such as Guy Laroche and Hubert de Givenchy. His experiences during the May 1968 student riots in Paris inspired him to create clothing for the masses rather than the elite. After a stint in New York, he founded the Miyake Design Studio in Tokyo in 1970 and, within a few years, began experimenting with technical materials. He started presenting his collections in Paris in 1973.
Miyake’s signature pleats took shape in the late 1980s when he developed a technique that involved pleating clothes after they were cut, using a heat press to shrink them into the desired size, shape, and texture. The resulting garments could be washed and air-dried without losing their shape. This method was initially employed to create clothing for the Frankfurt Ballet, providing dancers with freedom of movement. It later became the basis for the Pleats Please Issey Miyake line introduced in 1993.
Another innovative breakthrough came in 1998 with A-POC (A Piece of Cloth), a novel approach that used a single thread fed into an industrial knitting machine and controlled through computer programming to create tubular clothing. These garments could then be customized by cutting them into individualized styles.
Denis Bruna, chief curator in the fashion and textile department at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, which houses 154 Miyake pieces, considers him “the designer who brought Japanese vision and techniques into Western fashion. He innovated through materials and shapes while using traditional techniques, particularly the flat cut commonly used in Japan, where the garment takes its shape on the body. Alongside Kenzō Takada, he showed that it was possible to build a career in France.”
Issey Miyake’s clothing was celebrated for its ability to make a statement while remaining easy to wear. Fabien Baron, a renowned art director who collaborated with Miyake on the bottle for his bestselling fragrance L’Eau de Issey Miyake, described him as humble, reflecting on the designer’s personal journey. “For someone in fashion, he was so humble. . . . I learned long after we worked together that he witnessed the Hiroshima bomb, and I think he felt that life was a gift and tried to give as much as he could with his designs and his attitudes. His clothes offered a sense of freedom—you could slip them on and just be.”
Issey Miyake’s legacy is not only marked by his innovative designs but also by his compassion and commitment to bringing beauty and joy into the world, a remarkable journey for a designer who survived the horrors of Hiroshima and chose to focus on creating rather than destroying.