The Life and Legacy of the Revolutionary ‘Prince of Pleats’: Issey Miyake
Words: Charlie Lake
Issey Miyake, a man who disrupted the fashion industry by revolutionising fabric design, has tragically passed away aged 84 from liver cancer. Japanese designer Issey lived a far from ordinary life, even as a young boy. At age 7, he experienced the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima first hand, causing him and his family to flee from the ruinous city. Despite this traumatic event, he went on to graduate from Tama Art University in Tokyo in 1964 with a degree in graphic design. His qualification enabled him to go on and work under Guy Laroche and Hubert de Givenchy in Paris. Miyake witnessed the 1968 student protests across France which gave him a credo that he carried with him for the rest of his career – that fashion should not just be about dressing the wealthy, but instead should fulfil a certain art form and function.
This belief, then, was the founding principle for his Miyake Design Studio, established in 1970. Miyake was so successful in his first year that he was able to show his first collection in New York in 1971. It was not until 1993, however, that Issey Miyake became a household name when he unveiled his ‘Please Pleats’ line - this served as a rebuttal of the extortionately priced and somewhat uninspired high-end fashion of the time. The trousers, tabards and capes in the collection featured permanent pleats and amazingly could never be creased. These were created by a heated pleating machine which meant that the fabrics could be rolled instead of folded and could also be machine-washed. The collection is still extremely popular today, with the Homme Plissé pleated trousers still being one of the most sought-after trousers due to their undeniable timelessness and versatility.
Miyake rallied against the extremely damaging fast fashion culture that is having a destructive effect on our environment right now. He spent his early career experimenting with ways to simplify the construction of clothes by using fewer pieces of fabric. In the late 90s, he revealed a solution to this problem, which he coined the ‘One Piece of Cloth’ idea, which later became abbreviated to ‘A-POC’. This pioneered the technique of using just a single tube of fabric to make garments, cutting down on waste materials. Another, more simple way in which he combatted fast fashion culture was to ensure his pieces could be worn whenever with whatever, circumventing any possible microtrends. He certainly achieved that for the most part; the trousers, jackets, tops and womenswear show no signs of becoming any less popular, over two decades on from their initial release.
As well as designing clothing, Issey Miyake also created numerous fragrances under the same name; the most popular of which being L’eau D’Issey. This powerhouse fragrance was inspired by traditional Japanese baths and the smell of yuzu, a citrus fruit from Japan. Another key achievement for Issey was being entrusted as a stylist for his most famous client, Steve Jobs; he created the signature black turtle-necksweatshirt that the Apple founder wore with jeans day in, day out. Other celebrities that sported the utilitarian garments include Robin Williams, Meryl Streep, Kim Kardashian and Rihanna, to mention just a few.
Issey’s precision and innovation left a permanent mark on an ever-changing industry that would do well to find another artist who cared for their product as much as the late Mr Miyake did. As per his request, there will no memorial or funeral service, but his work will certainly not be forgotten for generations to come.