Making Things with Issey Miyake

Exploring the Fifth Dimension of Design

16 APRIL 2016,
"MIYAKE ISSEY EXHIBITION: The Work of Miyake Issey", installation view at the National Art Center, Tokyo, Photo: Masaya Yoshimura
"MIYAKE ISSEY EXHIBITION: The Work of Miyake Issey", installation view at the National Art Center, Tokyo, Photo: Masaya Yoshimura

"Design is work that brings people joy and a sense of wonder" - Issey Miyake

“Feeling good”—is the particular sensation The National Art Center, Tokyo Director General Dr. Tamotsu Aoki described for world design icon Issey Miyake’s clothing designs. It is a “feeling good” one can not resist when visually absorbing Miyake’s play of bright red orange, yellow, gold, navy blue or bronze colors flanked against black shadows. It is a “feeling good” that runs down your fingers when gently touching the soft, yet corrugated texture of Miyake’s Pleats Please series, or the angular shapes of his new folded, origami-like line of clothing, 132 5. The underlying foundation for this delicate sensation is Miyake’s arduous quest to “make things” that would touch the lives and experiences of people who partake adventurously in his craft—whether the journey slides through the joys of folding, flattening, crushing, pressing, turning, or simply wrapping a singular piece of cloth around the body contour. “I try to make things that are completely new and different, which in turn inform our new realities… Making Think, Making Things and Making Reality.” (“MIYAKE ISSEY EXHIBITION: The Work of Miyake Issey”)

Never has a Japanese designer been as internationally acclaimed as Issey Miyake whose career has spanned well over forty years. In the “MIYAKE ISSEY EXHIBITION: The Work of Miyake Issey,” an explosive exhibition of the designer’s unaccountable masterpieces covering four decades of innovative experiments in design, currently running at The National Art Center, Tokyo until June 13, 2016, we understand Miyake’s steadfast adherence to liberation, comfort, lightness, pleasure, and constant discovery of novel printing and manufacturing techniques, materials and concepts for wrapping the body simplistically and aesthetically.

Opening the exhibition in Room A is a long, single file of dressed bodies from Miyake’s 1970s collections. The era should be a crucial point in Miyake’s career as it also marks the establishment of the Miyake Design Studio in 1970. After studying Graphic Design at Tama Art University, Tokyo, Miyake moved to Paris in 1965 and attended the school of haute couture. The Tokyo Olympics in 1964 and Expo ’70 in Osaka had just given birth to a microcosm of opportunities and challenges for attaining a “better” lifestyle for the Japanese, and for Issey Miyake, these monumental events paved the route to an ideology of expressing Japanese culture to the world that before then had been quite difficult for Japanese to discuss.

Each body in this section is a visible representation of a rising freedom of expression in aesthetics and development of various printing and manufacturing processes in fashion technology both in Japan and abroad. “Tattoo” is an exemplary model of this tendency, illustrating hippie portraits of Jim Hendrix and Janis Joplin in a Japanese-patterned tattoo design on the back of a one-piece cotton jersey bodysuit; the “Tanzen” piece employs a straight-cut weft double weave method in Japanese kihachijo plaid pattern—both maintaining Miyake’s deep consideration of the traditional Japanese identity. Miyake had also begun to work with various artists, such as Tadanori Yokoo, and foreign collaborators from Italy and other countries—an active teamwork that speaks of the master’s open-minded fusion of East and West.

Perhaps, Miyake’s most ingenious approach to fabric application is the “A Piece of Cloth” concept that creatively converts one single fabric into a piece of clothing. The result produces body, texture and depth in what is often referred to as the clever wrapping of the three-dimensional human body with a two-dimensional cloth in the simplest and most comfortable mode. It allows a submissive sense of freedom between the body and the fabric, and between space and the mind, tempting one to wear the dress on the very spot.

As one passes through the array of fiber reinforced plastics, synthetic resin infusion and rattan skeletal bodies representing the first half of the 1980s collections in Room B, one is gradually inspired by the vitality of the human body structure, where the shoulder, bust, waist, hips and arms seem to come alive beneath the fabric as second skin, inseparable as it is from the body it wraps it with. Miyake has always expressed profound fascination for the body so that the cloth simply reacts to its motions and diverse forms. “From the beginning I thought about working with the body in movement, the space between the body and clothes. I wanted the clothes to move when people moved. The clothes are also for people to dance or laugh.” (Miyake Issey quote)

Finally, a universe of beauty erupts in the last section, Room C of the exhibition that highlights collections from the second half of the 1980s to the present. We see immense dynamism in the adaptation of the pleated clothes (Cicada, Bamboo, Mutant, Border, Seaweed, and more) from one-piece dresses, skirts, trousers, to robes and jackets, and the pleating process technique; A-POC woven jeans, and the 132 5. project of foil print folded clothing shaped into algorithms of pentagons, hexagons and spherical forms. The idea of this project (1=single fabric; 3=3-dimensional form; 2=3D material folded into 2-dimensional shape; 5=5th dimension that evolves from multiple encounters with people who wear these clothes) stemmed from Miyake’s conscious need to explore recycled materials with the aid of computer scientist Jun Mitani’s mathematical solutions for transforming a single sheet of paper into a potpourri of various three-dimensional shapes. Apparently, the folding technique has always been inherent in Japanese tradition—in the kimono, origami, folded paper in Shinto shrines, and gift wrapping, which makes Miyake’s designs utterly timeless and intimate to human sensation.

Apart from the aesthetic blend of wools and cottons and application of non-conformist sewing methods, such as heat-cut technique (rather than using scissors) or utilizing snaps (rather than needle and thread), Issey Miyake has successfully elevated the meaning of design to a plateau that transcends beyond mere form and material. In his own words, the design process calls, indeed, for “re-generation” and “re-creation,” wherein products must reinstall forgotten crafts and skills, and simultaneously adhere to the current society’s changing environmental needs. There is more to Miyake’s design ideology of “feeling good;” it certainly is also “feeling right.”

With special gratitude to The National Art Center, Tokyo, Miyake Design Studio and Jun Kanai.