Issey Miyake's 50 Years of Making Connections

By Foreman, Liza | International New York Times, December 2, 2014 | Go to article overview

Issey Miyake's 50 Years of Making Connections


Foreman, Liza, International New York Times


The designer understood far earlier than most the value of incorporating the disciplines of technology and art in his work.

CORRECTION APPENDED

In one of the six Issey Miyake boutiques that line a small, unnamed street in the Aoyama district, a sales assistant got ready to work some magic. She pulled a loop attached to a piece of silvery material that had been carefully folded flat and suddenly, like a puppet in an experimental theater for cloth, an angular dresssprang to life, one of the latest styles for the Miyake 132.5 brand.

Clothing, the word that the designer prefers to "fashion," has been at the heart of Issey Miyake's work since he established the Miyake Design Studio in 1970. "I am most interested in people and the human form," Mr. Miyake said in an email interview. "Clothing is the closest thing to all humans."

But in an increasingly interconnected fashion world, Mr. Miyake understood far earlier than most the value of incorporating the disciplines of technology and art in his work. Indeed, he has been exploring the connections among the sectors for close to half a century.

Posters on display in the Miyake boutiques actually told some of the story. One highlighted the designer's collaboration with the Fondation Cartier pour l'art Contemporain, the Paris institution where he has shown his own work and that of others several times. Its website, which introduced the Hiroshima native as "the most fascinating fashion designer of our time," included a photograph of the designer's "Vivid Memories" show earlier this year, a display of his artful IN-EI shadow-sculpture lamps made from recycled materials and based on research by Jun Mitani, a computer scientist and associate professor at the University of Tsukuba.

The second poster advertised 21_21 Design Sight, Mr. Miyake's own seven-year-old museum in Tokyo, and its current exhibition "The Fab Mind: Hints of the Future in a Shifting World," the work of 24 groups of artists and designers trying to resolve social issues through design.

"Today, it is accepted that all design intersects, there are no boundaries between art, design and other creative activities and they all intersect," Mr. Miyake wrote. "All of my work stems from the simplest of ideas that go back to the earliest civilizations: making clothing from one piece of cloth. It is my touchstone. I believe that all forms of creativity are related." (The designer wanted an email interview because, his secretary said, he prefers making things to talking.)

Noriko Kawakami, a design journalist and associate director of 21_21 Design Sight, is just one of the many people who see Mr. Miyake as much more than a fashion designer: "He is a true artist who teaches us what really is important for society, by constantly questioning, and also being socially active."

Mr. Miyake spent most of the 1960s studying and working in Paris and New York, returning to Japan to open his design studio in 1970. Art played an important role from the beginning: His first Issey Miyake collection, for fall 1971, featured a dress with a Japanese- style tattoo print of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix created by Makiko Minagawa, an artist who joined the studio staff. It is now in the collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute, Japan's foremost fashion institution.

Mr. Miyake actually played a role in founding the costume institute. In 1975, he was instrumental in bringing Diana Vreeland's "Inventive Clothes: 1909- 1939" from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the National Museum of Modern Art in Kyoto, an exhibition that set off the institute's creation. (As co-founder in 2012 of the Society for a Design Museum in Japan, Mr. Miyake now is working toward yet another museum.)

Throughout the '80s, as Mr. Miyake added labels and the roster of store sites grew, he worked beyond cloth to create garments from plastic, paper and wire. In 1982, a gown made of rattan vines from his Body Works collection was shown on the cover of Artforum magazine: "It was unheard of for a piece of clothing to be featured in an art magazine," Mr. …

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