This fashion designer's ultimate concern was creating wearable art that reflects our times while granting unlimited freedom of movement.
When clothing designer Issey Miyake died at age 84 earlier this month, the fashion world lost a genuine visionary. Committed to creating clothes that embodied modern aesthetics without sacrificing comfort, he was all about apparel that could be worn all day and still look fresh come evening. One of the informing principles of his design philosophy, as he put it, was a belief in “style that would not be restricted to a particular age or profession, and which would be inspired by current aesthetics.” Although his design ideas didn’t always mesh with my own–Miyake famously used polyester knits to to create his late 1980s “Pleats Please” line—his creativity and innovative techniques were startlingly original.
Initially intending to become a dancer, Miyake switched gears by studying graphic design in Tokyo. But he had an abiding interest in clothing design, in part whetted by an older sister’s fashion magazines. That led him to Paris where he apprenticed with Guy Laroche and also produced 50 to 100 sketches per day for Hubert de Givenchy’s fashion house. After a brief stay in New York soaking up the art scene there as well as working with designer Geoffrey Beene, Miyake returned to Tokyo where he established his own design studio, producing high-end women’s fashions.
Even people who know nothing about Miyake have likely seen his work without being aware of it. Steve Jobs’ signature black mock turtleneck came from Miyake as the result of a friendship struck up between the two. Interested in some uniforms Miyake had designed for Sony workers, Jobs contacted the designer. As it turned out, Apple’s workforce strongly resisted the idea of uniforms, but the turtlenecks stuck, at least with Jobs. The late founder of Apple recalled, "So I asked Issey to make me some of his black turtlenecks that I liked, and he made me like a hundred of them.”
Throughout his professional career, Miyake was noted for giving creatives of all kinds a helping hand. His encouragement and support extended to artists and designers beyond the fashion world. He was especially supportive of architects and interior designers just starting out and commissioned their work in developing new boutiques. He also had an abiding interest in Madeleine Vionnet, the French designer I’ve blogged about in the past. He was drawn to the geometric calculations she used as well as Vionnet's concern with comfort. Remarking on seeing her work for the first time, he remembered "the impression was similar to the wonder one feels at the sight of a woman emerging from bathing, draped only in a single piece of beautiful cloth.”