Issey Miyake, who built one of Japan’s biggest fashion brands and was known for his boldly sculpted, signature pleated pieces, has died. He was 84.
Miyake died Aug. 5 of liver cancer, Miyake Design Office said Tuesday.
Miyake defined an era in Japan’s modern history, reaching stardom in the 1970s among a generation of designers and artists who reached global fame by defining a Japanese vision that was unique from the West.
Miyake’s origami-like pleats transformed usually crass polyester into chic. He also used computer technology in weaving to create apparel. His down-to-earth clothing was meant to celebrate the human body regardless of race, build, size or age.
Miyake even detested being called a fashion designer, choosing not to identify with what he saw as a frivolous, trend-watching, conspicuous consumption. He was well-known as the designer behind Apple founder Steve Jobs’s trademark black turtleneck.
Again and again, Miyake returned to his basic concept of starting with a single piece of cloth — be it draped, folded, cut or wrapped.
Over the years, he took inspiration from a variety of cultures and societal motifs, as well as everyday items — plastic, rattan, “washi” paper, jute, horsehair, foil, yarn, batik, indigo dyes and wiring.
In the late 1980s, he developed a new way of pleating by wrapping fabrics between layers of paper and putting them into a heat press, with the garments holding their pleated shape. Tested for their freedom of movement on dancers, this led to the development of his signature “Pleats, Please” line.
Although he made clothes that went beyond the mundane, appearing to reach for the spiritual, he made a point to never get pretentious, always approving of the T-shirt-and-jeans look.
“Designing is like a living organism in that it pursues what matters for its well-being and continuity,” Miyake once wrote in his book.
Influenced by Hiroshima experience
His office confirmed a private funeral had already been held and other ceremonies will not be held in accordance with Miyake’s wishes. Miyake kept his family life private, and survivors are not known.
Miyake was born in Hiroshima and was seven years old when the atomic bomb was dropped on the city while he was in a classroom. He was reluctant to speak of the event in later life. In 2009, writing in the New York Times as part of a campaign to get then-U.S. President Barack Obama to visit the city, he said he did not want to be labelled as “the designer who survived” the bomb.
“When I close my eyes, I still see things no one should ever experience,” he wrote, saying that within three years, his mother died of radiation exposure.
“I have tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to put them behind me, preferring to think of things that can be created, not destroyed, and that bring beauty and joy. I gravitated toward the field of clothing design, partly because it is a creative format that is modern and optimistic.”
Early stints with Laroche, Givenchy
After studying graphic design at a Tokyo art university, he learned clothing design in Paris, where he worked with famed fashion designers Guy Laroche and Hubert de Givenchy, before heading to New York. In 1970 he returned to Tokyo and founded the Miyake Design Studio.
Miyake was a star as soon as he hit the European runways. His brown top, which combined the Japanese sewn fabric called “sashiko” with raw silk knit, was splashed on the cover of the September 1973 issue of Elle magazine.
He was a pioneer in terms of gender roles, asking feminist Fusae Ichikawa in the 1970s — when she was in her 80s — to be his model, sending the message that garments must be comfortable and express the natural beauty of real people.
Eventually he developed more than a dozen fashion lines ranging from his main Issey Miyake for men and women to bags, watches and fragrances before essentially retiring in 1997 to devote himself to research.
In 1992, Miyake was commissioned to design the official Olympic uniform for Lithuania, which had just gained independence from the Soviet Union.