Issey Miyake Mounts Career Retrospective

TOKYO.- An exhibition devoted to designer Issey Miyake is on view until June 13, 2016 at the National Art Center, Tokyo.

This exhibition, Miyake Issey Exhibition: The Work of Miyake Issey, promises to be an unprecedented event, focusing on the entirety of Miyake’s 45-year career, from 1970 to the present.

Miyake has consistently presented new methodologies and possibilities for making clothes, while always focusing on the future. It all began in 1960 when Miyake, a student at Tama Art University, sent a letter to the World Design Conference, which was being held for the first time in Japan that year.

The letter took issue with the fact that clothing design was not included in the event. At that point, Miyake’s notion that clothing is not merely “fashion” ― i.e., something that changes with the times ― but a form of design that is closely connected to our lives on a much more universal level was already apparent.

Miyake has always explored the relationship between a piece of cloth and the body, and the space that is created as a result, unrestricted by any existing framework. In addition, along with his team of designers, he persistently undertakes research and development to create clothing that combines both innovation and comfort.

This exhibition sheds light on Miyake’s ideas about making things and his approach to design by examining his entire career.

Tradition and the Latest Technology

While making the most of traditional techniques and craftsmanship in his clothing designs, Miyake has continually strived to develop new materials and methods. These attempts led to epochal designs unlike conventional approaches to making clothes, such as PLEATS PLEASE and A-POC, adding another level of brilliance to people’s daily lives.

For the first time ever, visitors will learn the production process Miyake uses to make his pleated products. The exhibition is divided into three rooms:

Room A

The body is the starting point of all the design practices related to clothing. Issey Miyake has always put the body, its physicality as well as its needs, at the center of his design activities.

For Issey Miyake, the dialogue between body and clothing consists at once of presence and absence, in the sense that the shape of the clothing is created by the body itself, only when it is worn, with the space between cloth and body being of uttermost importance. A dress might appear as a formal abstraction when laid flat, only to reveal its purpose when worn, the balance of pragmatism and invention being a veritable Issey Miyake signature.

Issey Miyake's early design solutions are explored in Room A, drawing, visually, a long introductory line to themes that will resurface, differently yet regularly. What is immediately clear is that every step was made possible by constant innovation in fabric-making, matched by a deep respect for traditions.

Issey Miyake founded the Miyake Design Studio in 1970, focusing on ideas of freedom ― of thought and body. He created a jumpsuit with a tattoo motif that looked literally like a wearable second skin, and a multi-size handkerchief dress made of just three squares of fabric joined on the bias; a cocoon coat swept diagonally around the body and a linen jumpsuit was cut in the entire width of the fabric.

The free-form shapes took different meanings on different bodies, thus making the wearer more important than the actual clothes ― an adamant freedom principle for Issey Miyake. Also, those shapes were either the result of fabric research or traditional weaves seen anew.

Room B

The human body, intended as a presence to enhance, streamline and redesign, is central in the work of Issey Miyake, in the 1980s in particular.

Invention never happens in a void: Issey Miyake was reacting, with his personal tools and views, to the zeitgeist of a lively, contradictory and hedonistic decade. He actually anticipated a whole movement, proposing the first body-centered creations already in 1980.

Issey Miyake's work in this phase carries on the technological and formal research upon which his design practice has been established. The stress on the body is in fact made possible by the application of new technologies that allow the use of materials never before applied to clothes-making, like the fiber reinforced plastics and synthetic resin infusion that translated into a series of sculptural bodices in 1980.

Modeled on a real torso, these items were not intended as a work of art, but as industrially produced multiples. The silicone zippered body follows the same principle, while the rattan body pieces, halfway between clothing and undergarment, stand at the crossing of East and West.

The waterfall body pieces, made of Pewlon and modeled on the torso with the aid of a silicone infusion seamlessly mix classic draping, sculpture and science, using a piece of cloth.

Room C

Issey Miyake's most radical research springs from a team mentality. Early on, in fact, he refused the status of the fashion designer as a self-obsessed divinity, developing fruitful collaborations both inside the Miyake Design Studio and with textile engineers and fabric firms.

Using a single piece of cloth to create a piece of clothing is the main creative quest for Issey Miyake, but also an ethical choice.

By doing so, in fact, he can develop new shapes, while enhancing the beauty and texture of the fabric and reducing its waste to virtually zero, in respect of the environment. .

Room C explores the main themes of Issey Miyake's innovative drive and groups them in thematic clusters.

Fabric is pivotal: a maker of things, Issey Miyake believes that any material can be turned into clothing. He used Japanese washi paper, horsehair and raffia; conversely, he has rediscovered traditional materials.

But he has also experimented special treatments giving surfaces an alive, animal look, as well as exploring futuristic fabrics, such as a polyester that is heat-cut and molded into shape with the aid of just snap buttons.

Issey Miyake has also developed treatments based on the idea of re-use, like the Starburst series which acquire a new look after the foil is pressed on the fabric surface, or the needle-punching that produces unique textures by laying layers of different materials.


Pleats is a theme that crosses a large dent of the Issey Miyake production. Working first with blends of polyester and natural fibers, then with a specially developed weave of polyester that can be heat processed, Issey Miyake turned pleats, one of the most ancient ways to wrap a three dimensional object with a two-dimensional material, into an expression of aesthetic pureness with a pragmatic aim.

He developed a special process of “garment pleating”, which means that a piece of clothing is pleated after it is sawn, resulting in very sharp, defined lines.

Pleats allowed Miyake the opportunity of working with shapes that laid flat have almost a purely abstract quality ― a staircase, a circle, a flying saucer ― playing with the space between body and clothing, but pleats and specifically the “garment pleating” process he devised, ultimately provided the solution to one of Miyake’s dreams to create clothing as universal as jeans and T-shirts, and allowed the creation of a whole new species of utilitarian clothes, at once inventive, sturdy and extremely practical.

Freeing the movement was the aim, and in fact these solutions were first tested for the William Forsythe’s Ballet Frankfurt, and later introduced into the collection, finally culminating in the launch of PLEATS PLEASE in 1993.

Launched in 2010, 132 5. ISSEY MIYAKE has been developed inside Miyake's Reality Lab., a think tank cum design collective crossing boundaries and disciplines.

Using recycled polyester as material and techniques inspired by the algorithms, a new breed of clothes is born: items that can be completely folded into flat, geometric shapes, and that only gain life through the body movements of those who unfold them and wear them.

As such, this technology has been extended beyond clothes making: similar shapes made with the same folding technique characterize in fact the IN-EI ISSEY MIYAKE lamps made with recycled pet bottles.