Designer Issey Miyake has died aged 84, leaving an indelible mark on the fashion world. He was celebrated for clothing that responded to the body in movement and which was conceptual in design but also completely appropriate for the everyday. His garments were often based on simple geometric shapes made in finely pleated fabrics that resulted in new and unexpected silhouettes.
Miyake stood out from the fashion crowd in several ways. For a global audience, it was poignant and meaningful to see a non-western designer not only establish their own successful multicultural fashion business internationally but also propose fashion beyond the established and conventional silhouette, fabric styles and imagery.
There’s much for the next generation of fashion designers to learn from Miyake’s body of work, from his innovative reinvention of Japanese clothing traditions to his bravery in embracing new textile technologies and silhouettes. Perhaps most relevant for the modern audience was his inclusive vision, his aim of “designing for the many”. He demonstrated this not just through the design and cut of his garments but also in the models he chose to include in his shows and campaigns. Miyake always ensured that “the many” meant including models from underrepresented backgrounds.
An egalitarian vision
Born in Hiroshima, Japan in 1938, Miyake was seven years old when his hometown was destroyed by the atomic bomb that signalled the end of the second world war in Asia. He sustained a serious leg injury and lost his mother to radiation sickness soon after, events which inspired him to “think of things that can be created, not destroyed”.
Miyake went on to study graphic design at Tokyo’s Tama Art University before attending the Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture in Paris in 1965. He witnessed the revolutionary May 1968 protests in Paris, a series of student and worker demonstrations that resulted in improved workers’ rights and rapid social change. This led Miyake to question the status quo and inspired him to think in a more egalitarian and radical way about fashion design.
In 1970 he established the Miyake Design Studio. His first range was based on the concept he called “A Piece of Cloth”, which was a way of designing with the two-dimensional quality of cloth and minimising waste. When working on the world’s fair exhibition Expo ‘70 in Osaka, he designed a range of modular garments that could be assembled into a variety of outfits chosen by the wearer, aptly named “constructible fashion”.