Remembering Issey Miyake: 5 defining moments that shaped the fashion legend

·5 min read
 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

The beloved master of fashion Issey Miyake has died aged 84 following a battle with liver cancer.

As tributes continue to pour in from friends, family and the fashion sphere, we take a moment to look back on the Japanese designer’s most pivotal career moves. It’s an inspirational tale of how a seven year-old boy survived tragedy in Hiroshima and went on to become one of the world’s greatest designers of all time.

Over the course of a 52-year career, the list of Mikaye’s achievements and innovations is immeasurable. To help paint a broader picture of the designer’s life, we’ve zoomed in on five key moments…

From Tokyo to Paris… and back again

Born in Hiroshima in 1938, Issey Miyake was seven when he survived the bombing in 1945. His mother died of radiation poisoning three years later, though he rarely spoke of this, telling the New York Times in 2009: “I did not want to be labeled ‘the designer who survived the atomic bomb’”.

He later moved from Hiroshima to Tokyo to study graphic design, before eventually making the jump from Japan to France in his twenties, where he studied in Paris at the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne. He is said to have found his love for fashion by studying his sister’s magazines, though he also wanted to be a dancer and a fascination for the human form had already sprouted.

He soon became an apprentice to Guy Laroche, and subsequently, Hubert de Givenchy, for whom he worked on 50 to 100 sketches daily. It was during the time that Miyake worked for Givenchy that the French designer was creating some of Audrey Hepburn’s most iconic looks.

Five years later - with priceless training now under his belt - in 1970 Miyake returned to Tokyo where he opened Miyake Design Studio.

A young Issey Miyake (AFP via Getty Images)
A young Issey Miyake (AFP via Getty Images)

Pleats Please!

In 1993 Issey Miyake launched Pleats Please - arguably the most recognisable branch of his work. Pieces from the collection could be as easily debuted in 2022 as in the 90s; their effortless, oyster-mushroom-like texture, equally as delicate as they are striking. Within Miyake’s ocean of knowledge, his pleats were the waves that caused ripples in every corner of the planet.

That being said, unbeknownst to some, his inspiration was drawn from a designer who came before him. Mariano Fortuny opened his couture house in 1906 and based his gowns on the ease and lightness of Grecian tunics. Like Miyake, Fortuny wanted to play with the natural lines of the body, doing so with effortless comfort for the wearer.

Pleats were a signature of Fortuny’s creations, but in the 80s, fashion editor Sylviia Rubin credited Miyake with ‘reinventing’ the Fortuny pleat. Now stitched firmly into the Miyake DNA, the process of developing Pleats Please starts with a garment two or three times bigger than the size it’s intended to be, before it is shrink throughout the folding and ironing process.

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

When Issey met Irving…

In 1983, Issey Miyake met legendary fashion photographer Irving Penn whilst both were working on an editorial shoot for American Vogue. The result of the meeting was a 13 year-long collaboration, several books and some of the most treasured images of Miyake’s work to exist. Miyake felt that Penn captured the essence of his collections like no other photographer and together the two were able to celebrate and showcase the uncomparable extent of their individual talents by working together.

 (Irving Penn, Issey Miyake staircase dress, June 1994)
(Irving Penn, Issey Miyake staircase dress, June 1994)

The collaborations, 1996 - 1999

Miyake has often been asked (as have many designers), is fashion art? Or, should fashion be art? In response, he has always avoided the question. Instead, in 1996 he began a series of collaborations that showcased art and fashion hand in hand. He worked with incredible Japanese photographers Yasumasa Morimura and Nobuyoshi Araki, as well as American artist Tim Hawkinson, and later, Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang.

For his 1999 collection in collaboration with Cai Guo-Qiang, Miyake buried a series of white Pleats Please pieces underneath explosives, only to light the match and watch as gunpowder scorched the fabric, creating large splatters of a dragon-like pattern.

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Issey Miyake perfume

In 2014, Miyake told the New York Times “clothing is the closest thing to all humans”, and so it’s no wonder that a man obsessed with the human form came out with a perfume. In 1992, Issey Miyake released L’EAU D’ISSEY, a bottle now instantly recognisable and to some people, even more iconic than his pleats.

Whilst staying in Paris, Miyake looked to the full moon rising above the Eiffel tower; the shadow it cast sparked his inspiration for the shape of the bottle (triangular, with a crystal orb at its summit). The name for the fragrance came from a pun: ‘L’eau d’Issey’ when pronounced correctly, sounds just like ‘L’Odyssey’.

When it first launched in 1992, L’eau d’Issey is said to have sold out every 14 seconds.

 (Irving Penn / Issey Miyake)
(Irving Penn / Issey Miyake)

Issey Miyake designs are where maximalists and minimalists shake hands: the midpoint of the venn diagram that is equally respected by all, no matter what your own personal style. Miyake is as adored by Versace-lovers as it is by the Supreme-obsessed and The Row fanatics. What’s more, his work acted as the bridge between generations and cultures. As popular with 60-year-olds as it is with 20-year-olds, he was beloved by all and even lowered his price points so that his work was more accessible to its devoted followers.

Many who own Issey Miyake pieces will own them their entire lifetime. And just as we will keep his pleats in our wardrobes forever, so too will we eternally remember the genius behind them.