by Sunena V MajuPublished on : Aug 10, 2022
“Dead he is not, but departed, for the artist never dies”; American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow may have penned the expression over a century ago but his words continue to resonate. Japanese designer Issey Miyake is one such designer. Bidding a farewell to the world, Miyake passed away at 84 on August 5, 2022, of liver cancer. The fashion designer was born in Japan on April 22, 1938, his initial memories of life lie in the horrific images of the US bombing of Hiroshima. Though the intensity of war never left him, the designer hardly discussed that part of his life. However, he translated his experiences into his creations as a celebration of life and explored the freedom of movement. Popularly known as the ‘king of pleats’, Miyake rose to fame for his origami-like designs, which are often considered the epitome of the 1980s cutting-edge fashion. Before the inception of 3D printing and technology-driven clothes, Miyake created the ‘Pleats Please’ line which was considered radical and avant-garde for the fashion setting of 1993. As he evolved his approach and work, he transformed the line into a practical, wearable and trendy design that has proven to be timeless. From designing factory uniforms for the workers of the electronic giant, Sony, to creating the signature black turtleneck-clad look for the co-founder of Apple, Steve Jobs, the essence of Miyake’s philosophy often lingers in the public eye. 
While being one of the first Japanese designers to have a show in Paris, Miyake’s presence on several global platforms summoned a new era for the visibility of Japanese fashion on an international stage. His contribution was recognised by the Japanese government, which bestowed Miyake with Japan’s Order of Culture in 2010. Adding to his influence in the world of design, his works are also a part of the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Creating a notable presence in other fields as well, Miyake collaborated with many renowned personalities such as Shiro Kuramata, Irving Penn, Yasumasa Morimura, Nobuyoshi Araki, and Tim Hawkinson, to name a few. Among his best-known products were the fragrances from his perfume line. In a bottle that Miyake himself designed – inspired by the moon behind the Eiffel Tower as seen from his Paris apartment – the L’eau d’Issey, launched in 1992, immediately became a much-loved perfume. Following this, many other fragrances were introduced by the designer over the years. In his quest for new fabrics and fashion, he went beyond geographical boundaries. The eponymous international brand of Issey Miyake has been working in collaboration with Martand Singh, an advocate for Indian cultural revival, since the 1980s, producing a series of clothes referred to as “a dialogue with Indian culture”.
Marking a significant stir in the design world, in 2001, a creative project called Issey Miyake Watches was launched which witnessed product designers from around the world creating a unique piece that upheld the brand’s spirit and design principles. In the array of eminent designers who designed for the collection were Naoto Fukasawa, Ross Lovegrove, Satoshi Wada, Jasper Morrison, Ichiro Iwasaki and more. Occupying a prominent place in this collection is ‘VUE’ designed by Yves Béhar which expresses the concept of “viewing the passage of time”.
While reminiscing his fond memories of working with Miyake, Béhar shares STIR, “Issey Miyake has been a hero of mine since my early days studying design at the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, CA. I looked up to him and his work as an inventor, designer and artist. When he asked me to design the Vue watch, it was an incredible honour.
Mr. Miyake and his team gave us a complete license to create freely at the intersection of design and poetry. The concept of Vue was so well received because it was open to the human experience and our everyday idiosyncrasies. It was a great honour to match Mr. Miyake’s poetic eye on beauty and practicality, and I am grateful for everything I learned from the great master.”
Working for Miyake on the retail store, A-POC ABLE ISSEY MIYAKE, Tokujin Yoshioka created a futuristic aesthetic within a vernacular building typology in Kyoto. Sharing his stories on Miyake, Tokujin Yoshioka says, “When I was 20 years old, Issey-san was looking for someone who is not from the fashion field but who could create sculptural forms. Shiro Kuramata introduced me to Issey-san because he thought I was an interesting young guy, and we met. After that, I was put in charge of non-clothing items such as hats, shoes, and other accessories for the ISSEY MIYAKE Paris Collection.
The reason was that Issey-san wanted to incorporate something new and sculptural into his garments, rather than things from the so-called mode and fashion world. At that time, I made a hat using a transparent silicon material that I discovered or a ring-shaped sculptural bag, and I presented them to Issey-san. He thought they were interesting, and I began to engage in the kind of spatial work that Shiro Kuramata was doing, such as installation work for exhibitions and store design. Every day was a trial-and-error process, and the days I immersed myself in creating things until late at night were a precious experience for me.”
He further adds, “It was an experience of constantly pursuing new things, and in the midst of failures and successes, ultimately creating things in order to evoke an emotional response in the users or viewers. I remember when Issey-san saw the torch I designed for the TOKYO 2020 Olympic Games and told me that he loved the design.
I was very surprised to hear the news of Issey-san passing away, as we were working together on new projects, and I had recently spoken with Issey-san by phone and was planning to meet him again in the near future. I believe that Issey-san’s never-ending passion for making things is something we must carry on.”
For the Japanese industrial designer, Naoto Fukasawa, the experience of working with Miyake is associated with the watches which he designed for the brand. Taking a trip down the memory lane, Fukasawa shares, “I believe that throughout his life, Issey Miyake wanted to do what no one else had ever done, and in that sense, he considered himself an artist. After he established his own designs, I think his friendship with a solitary artist deepened.
I think that when I first came to his attention, that was when he began to learn about design more broadly. At the same time, I could sense that he was studying design intensely. When he asked me to design an Issey Miyake watch, I decided to design something new, simple, and strong. I tried to design a new kind of wearable piece de resistance that is completely different from the watches that are in the decorative category. I don’t think I would have come up with the novel idea of having no scale on the dial, just a dodecagonal glass corner displaying the time, if I had not been asked to do so by him. I designed the watch as if I were the client’s tide.”
From watches, bags, fragrances, and most notably clothes, Issey Miyake’s aesthetic and design were an actualization of his approach to design. His fundamental concept that “design is not for philosophy, but for life” is sure to continue to inspire and capture the imagination of millions across the globe.
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Sunena V Maju
As a writer, Sunena believes everything has a story and strives to pen down the stories that architecture holds and hides. An avid lover of history and architectural theories, she questions the design process while probing into the relevance it holds for the world of tomorrow. When she’s not writing, you may find her curious mind wandering around the writings of Dan Brown or Paulo Coelho.
As a writer, Sunena believes everything has a story and strives to pen down the stories that architecture holds and hides. An avid lover of history and architectural theories, she questions the design process while probing into the relevance it holds for the world of tomorrow. When she’s not writing, you may find her curious mind wandering around the writings of Dan Brown or Paulo Coelho.
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