There are many famous names in the fashion world, with the likes of Coco Chanel, Giorgio Armani and Ralph Lauren all leaving a distinctive mark on the industry. A name that deserves to be held in the same esteem is Issey Miyake. Born in Japan, Miyake is known for his technology-based clothing that combines flexibility and comfort. Having come from humble beginnings, Miyake has looked to constantly innovate and redefine the fashion industry for the better.
Rising from tragedy
Born in Hiroshima in 1938, Miyake grew up in the wake of the atomic bomb catastrophe, an event that he struggled to talk about for years. When the bomb dropped he was seven years old and the radiation exposure caused him to develop periostitis, a disease that causes severe damage to the bones.
Within a couple of years his mother died from radiation poisoning, but she schose to focus on her son’s condition instead of her own while alive. Miyake went into detail about his childhood experiences:
“I was a first-grade primary school student when the atomic bomb was dropped 70 years ago on Hiroshima on Aug. 6. I heard the boom all of a sudden when I entered a classroom after a morning assembly. A broken piece of window glass got stuck into my head. I was frightened.”
“I was living in the town of Fuchu, adjacent to Hiroshima. My house, where my mother was, was 2.3 kilometres away from the epicentre of the bomb blast.”
“I told the people at the home to which I had been evacuated, “I want to go home,” and they gave me lots of hard dry biscuits. I headed home alone to search for my mother.
People were burned, lying on top of each other, and others gathered at a stream for water. I found my mother, who was burned over half her body, the following day. I asked where she was receiving treatment, and went to see her.”
Despite the circumstances, Miyake found comfort in art by admiring the balustrade of the Peace Bridge, which was designed by Isamu Noguchi. Falling in love with design, he vowed to follow his dream and refused to use his condition or the “atomic bombing as an excuse.”
Wanting to learn as much about design as possible, Miyake worked in Paris and New York. After honing his fashion design skills, Miyake returned to Tokyo in 1970 and opened the Miyake Design Studio, a business dedicated to women’s fashion.
It was during this time that the Japanese fashion mogul defined his style as a mixture of traditional materials with technological advancements in fashion. One of his earliest displays was a jersey body that featured hand-painted Japanese tattoos with a portrait of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin.
In the 1980s, Miyake experimented with new methods of pleating that provided flexibility for the wearer and quick production for suppliers. This resulted in clothes that were cut, sewn and packed between layers of paper and put through a heat press to be pleated. The pleats were held together by the ‘memory’ of the fabric and when the clothes were released from their paper chrysalis, they were ready-to-wear.
An important collaboration at the time was the relationship that Miyake had with model Midori Kitamura. She began working with him as a fitting model and developed into his right-hand woman. Her role was to select clothing for different exhibitions, style for shows and find new talent to try on the garments.
Stepping away from the limelight
In 1994, Miyake handed over control of his men and women’s fashion collections to his former protégé Naoki Takizawa. Wanting to return to his textile research, Miyake spent the next several years developing new projects, such as his growing perfume line and technology studio Reality Labs.
In the modern day, Miyake continues to fuse technology with fashion and one of his most recent designs was the Bao Bao, a cyberpunk style bag made of vinyl triangles linked together with a polyester mesh.
Miyake’s tremendous success is based on his tenacity and willingness to experiment with new styles. From the moment he stepped into the fashion sector, he had a forward-thinking attitude that has propelled him to the forefront of the clothing universe.
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