The ever-evolving career of fashion designer Issey Miyake
NORIYUKI TOMITA, Nikkei staff writer
TOKYO -- Fashion designer Issey Miyake has made a career out of combining traditional craftsmanship with new technology, with innovative and often surprising results. Now 77, Miyake still has a profound passion for the possibilities to be found in a single piece of cloth.
That passion is on full display at the "Miyake Issey Exhibition: The Work of Miyake Issey," which is being held at the National Art Center in Tokyo through June 13.
The ambitious exhibition was a full three years in the making, with items selected from tens of thousands of collections around the world. The sight of so many eye-catching pieces makes it seem as if a fashion show -- or rather, several fashion shows at once -- are being held in the sprawling venue.
"I always thought it would be great if I could have an exhibition at a place like this, and now my wish has come true," Miyake said of the National Art Center. As he has been a leading figure in the global fashion industry, his previous exhibitions tended to be overseas affairs, such as a traveling exhibition organized by the Paris-based Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art.
Miyake appeared satisfied with how this, his first major exhibition in Japan, has turned out. "This exhibition is something everyone, regardless of their age, can enjoy," he said. "It makes people feel like creating something."
The exhibition is broadly divided into three sections. Section A features his early body of work, specifically clothing made in the 1970s, which focused on ordinary Japanese work clothes and fabrics, such as embroidered sashiko coats and traditional tanzen housecoats, combined with new technology. Section B highlights the Body collection from the 1980s, in which Miyake pioneered the use of hard materials, such as fiber-reinforced plastics and synthetic resin, in clothing. Section C focuses on his collections since "Pleats Please" in the late 1980s and includes ongoing projects.
The exhibition as a whole reflects Miyake's passion for technologies that breathe new life into clothing, as well as his appreciation for the fabrics and techniques honed by generations of designers and clothing makers through the centuries.
Pleats, for example, have existed in some form or another since ancient times. Miyake made them one of his trademarks by finding a way to pleat a piece that has already been cut and sewn by using fabric that can be heat processed. This not only challenged the notion that ready-made clothing had to be cut to fit a certain body size, it also led to the creation of easy-wearing garments that maintain their shape even after being folded or washed.
Many more examples of Miyake's innovative production processes are on display at the exhibition. These include a Colombe dress made from one piece of cloth without sewing or cutting and the "A-POC" collection, a line of socks and other items made from a tubular piece of fabric knit on a pre-programed knitting machine.
CREATIVE QUEST The driving force behind these ideas is Miyake's quest to draw out the possibilities in a single piece of cloth, the ultimate creative source for various types of fashion. Graphic designer Taku Sato, who used to work for Miyake, supervised the composition of the exhibition. "Watching Miyake work gave me a strong sense of the infinite possibilities that one piece of cloth can contain, and how extraordinary imagination and creativity are," he said.
Designer Tokujin Yoshioka, who supervised Sections A and B, used mannequins he designed himself for the exhibition. Echoing his mentor's "one piece of cloth" approach, Yoshioka assembled each mannequin from 365 parts cut out of a single sheet of paper board and transparent resin.
"There are all kinds of problems in the world, such as natural resources and refugee issues," Miyake said. "I believe luxury clothes or clothes that take time to put on will disappear, and that clothing that can be worn by both men and women or shared among family members will become more common."
The current exhibition also covers his ongoing "132 5." collection, a lineup of futuristic clothing featuring geometric shapes created with fabrics made from recycled plastic bottles.
In the exhibition's opening ceremony, Jack Lang, France's former minister of culture, awarded Miyake the Legion of Honor on behalf of French President Francois Hollande in recognition of the designer's contribution to global culture.
Architect Tadao Ando congratulated Miyake in a speech. "Once artists receive acclaim for their work, they tend to use that work as their basis going forward. But Issey goes back to zero and begins to forge ahead from there. This resonates with artists around the world," he said.
"This exhibition is not a retrospective," he added. "It is an exhibition that shows his strong resolve to keep moving forward, starting from here."