Issey Miyake, Who Opened a Door for Japanese Fashion, Dies at 84
By Elaine Louie and Elizabeth Paton
Aug. 9, 2022
Issey Miyake, one of the first Japanese designers to show in Paris, whose pleated style of clothing allowed for freedom of movement and whose name became a global byword for cutting-edge fashion in the 1980s, died on Friday in Tokyo. He was 84.
His death, in a hospital, was announced on Tuesday by the Miyake Design Studio, which said the cause was liver cancer.
Mr. Miyake’s designs appeared everywhere, from morning to night, from factory floors — he designed a uniform for workers at the Japanese electronics giant Sony — to black tie dances.
His insistence that clothing was a form of design was considered avant-garde in the early years of his career, and he had notable collaborations with photographers and architects. His designs found their way onto the 1982 cover of Artforum — unheard-of for a fashion designer at the time — and into the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Mr. Miyake was feted in Japan for creating a global brand that contributed to the country’s efforts to build itself into an international destination for fashion and pop culture. In 2010, he received the Order of Culture, the country’s highest honor for the arts. And as one of the first Japanese designers to show in Paris, he was part of a revolutionary wave of designers that brought Japanese fashion to the rest of the world, eventually opening the door for contemporaries like Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo.
Mr. Miyake is perhaps best known for his micro pleating, which he first began experimenting with around 1988 but which has lately enjoyed a surge in popularity among new and younger consumers. It was driven by his philosophy of fashion: As he said in his book “Pleats Please” (2012, edited by his associate Midori Kitamura), clothes “must bestow freedom on those who wear them.”
Released in 1993, his Pleats Please line of clothing, made from a near weightless polyester, featured waterfalls of razor-sharp, accordionlike pleats offering the ease of loungewear. They became his most recognizable look. To wear a Pleats Please piece was to discover a lack of bodily constraint and, with that, Mr. Miyake hoped, a lack of emotional and creative inhibition.
Most Pleats Please clothes had no buttons, zippers or snaps. There were no tight armholes, or delineated waistlines. They slipped onto the body and were opaque enough to require only minimal underpinnings — say, a bra and panties. Necklines weren’t so deep as to be revealing. Often Mr. Miyake used solid colors — blues, greens, crimson — or fabrics printed with flowers or tattoos.
And under his proprietary heat treating system, these clothes never lost their shape: Even when rolled up into balls or knots they would never be wrinkled or crushed, and they could be machine washed.
Their prototype was conceived in 1991, when Mr. Miyake collaborated with the choreographer William Forsythe to design pleated costumes for a Frankfurt Ballet production of Mr. Forsythe’s “The Loss of Small Detail.” The male dancers wore the pants, then switched to dresses, the women vice versa. Whatever they wore, they were free to leap, pirouette and soar.
But Mr. Miyake was about more than pleats. His Bao Bao bag, made from mesh fabric layered with small colorful triangles of polyvinyl, has long been an accessory of choice for creative industries. He also produced the black turtleneck that became part of the signature look of Steve Jobs, the Apple co-founder.
In 1992, he introduced L’eau d’Issey, a floral fragrance for women that ended in a woody scent of springtime. The perfume was created by Jaques Cavallier, and the bottle was designed by Mr. Miyake (with Fabien Baron and Alain de Mourges) — a slender, minimalist, inverted glass cone with a matte silver top accented with an orb. It was inspired by Mr. Miyake’s glimpsing the moon rising over the Eiffel Tower one night in Paris.
Kazunaru Miyake was born on April 22, 1938. (The character for Kazunaru in Japanese writing also reads as Issey, which means one life.) He walked with a “pronounced limp,” Sheryl Garratt wrote in the British newspaper The Telegraph in 2010, a result of his surviving the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, his hometown, on Aug. 6, 1945. When he was 10, he developed a bone-marrow disease, Ms. Garratt wrote, and his mother died of radiation poisoning.
“I was there, and only 7 years old,” Mr. Miyake wrote in an opinion essay in The New York Times in 2009. “When I close 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. I remember it all.” Mr. Miyake rarely discussed that day — or other aspects of his personal history — “preferring to think of things that can be created, not destroyed, and that bring beauty and joy,” he wrote in the essay.
Mr. Miyake rarely discussed that day — or other aspects of his personal history — “preferring to think of things that can be created, not destroyed, and that bring beauty and joy,” he wrote in the essay.
He graduated in 1963 from Tama Art University in Tokyo, where he majored in design because fashion was not offered there as a course of study.
In 1965 he moved to Paris, where he worked as an assistant to Guy La Roche and Givenchy. While there he witnessed the May 1968 student protests, which inspired him to make clothes for everyone, not just the elite.
“I seem to be present at occasions of great social change,” he was quoted as saying in the 2017 book “Where Did Issey Come From?” by Kazuko Koike. “Paris in May ’68, Beijing at Tiananmen, New York on 9/11. Like a witness to history.”
He had a stint in New York, then founded the Miyake Design Studio in Tokyo in 1970. He often stressed that he did not consider himself “a fashion designer.” “Anything that’s ‘in fashion’ goes out of style too quickly,” he told the magazine Parisvoice in 1998. “I don’t make fashion. I make clothes.” Interviewed by the Japanese daily The Yomiuri Shimbun in 2015, he said: “What I wanted to make wasn’t clothes that were only for people with money. It was things like jeans and T-shirts, things that were familiar to lots of people, easy to wash and easy to use.” Still, he was perhaps best known as a designer whose styles combined the discipline of fashion with technology and art. In 2000, he introduced another collection designed to simplify the making of clothes, to eliminate the need for cutting and sewing the fabric. With his concept “A Piece of Cloth,” or “A-POC,” a single thread could be fed into an industrial knitting or weaving machine programmed by a computer. In a single process, the machine formed the components of a fully finished outfit, extruded as a single tube of fabric. The clothes could be cut with scissors along lines of demarcation. One tube of fabric could produce a dress, a hat and a blouse. Snip the fabric, and a piece of clothing emerged. Working with the architect and product designer Ron Arad, Mr. Miyake created A-POC Trampoline, which was a knit jacket, pants and stole that could double as a cover for Mr. Arad’s looping, figure-eight Ripple chair, displayed in 2006 at the annual Salone del Mobile design show in Milan.
A famously private person — information on his survivors was not immediately available — Mr. Miyake was nevertheless known for his close relationships with his longtime co-workers and collaborators, whom he credited with being essential to his success. Ms. Kitamura, for instance, started as a fit model in his studio, continued working with him for nearly 50 years and now serves as president of his design studio. His collaboration with the fashion photographer Irving Penn resulted in two books.
Throughout his life, “he never once stepped back from his love, the process of making things,” Mr. Miyake’s office said in a statement. “I am most interested in people and the human form,” Mr. Miyake told The Times in 2014. “Clothing is the closest thing to all humans.”
Ben Dooley and Hikari Hida contributed reporting from Tokyo.