2022’s Lives Boldly Lived: #4 Issey Miyake

A fancy clothing store in a mall

Fashion is an industry you can’t define with one word. Depending on the person, it can be an art form, a business venture, or a means of escape. Issey Miyake opened up Japanese fashion to the world and created a style based on life–an accomplishment that puts him on the Project Bold Life’s list of 2022’s Lives Boldly Lived (and lost).

(In case you missed the last installment–on mountaineer Hilaree Nelson–you can read it here!)

Life and Education in Post-WWII Japan

Born Miyake Kazunaru in Hiroshima, Japan, on April 22, 1938, Miyaki was seven-years old when the US dropped one of two atom bombs on his hometown in the last days of World War II. Most of his family perished during the attack, and his mother suffered from severe burns before passing away four years later. Three years after the bombing, he developed a bone marrow disease after radiation exposure.

Life in Japan after the war, with most of his family dead and his poor health, prevented Issey from having a great childhood. What helped ease the hardships he faced were painting and the Peace Bridge in their city designed by Isamu Noguchi, which he crossed every day on his way to painting class. He didn’t allow their impoverished state to stop him from art, working with his fingers instead of brushes with his artwork.

Post-WWII Japan was under American occupation, and the war left many Japanese people, Issey included, confused over their identities. It also changed their perspective on fashion as Japanese men wanted the classic Ivy League outfits of off-duty soldiers while women preferred the Parisian chic style.

After high school, Miyake moved to Tokyo to attend Tama Art University as a graphic design major. While studying at Tama in 1960, he sent a letter to the Secretariat of the World Design Conference, asking them why they didn’t include clothing design in the program. His perspective garnered attention and after his graduation, he flew to Paris to study at the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture.

“My generation in Japan lived in limbo. We were the first really raised with Hollywood movies and Hershey bars, the first who had to look in another direction for a new identity. We dreamed between two worlds.” -Issey Miyake

Miyake Design Studio and the Founding of Japanese Avant-Garde

He spent his time in Paris as an assistant to Guy Laroche and as an apprentice for Givenchy. During his stay in France, Miyake found the exclusive world of haute couture oppressive and elitist, and the clothing too tight, unlike traditional Japanese dresses. He was also a witness of the May 1968 riots, strengthening his determination to create clothes that more people could use.

While Miyake enjoyed the experience and found several inspirations during his stay in Paris and his travels to New York, neither satisfied his aesthetic needs. As a result, he decided to create something new by coming home to Japan.

In his return to Japan, the young Miyake rediscovered his country’s rich craft practice and aesthetic. He found the rituals, formality, and restraints in Japanese traditions similar to the standards of haute couture. In 1970, he established the Miyake Design Studio for women’s clothing. One of his projects was the reinvention of kimonos and Japanese dresses, using their shapelessness, anonymity, and comfort as his designs’ core philosophies. In the same year, he participated in the Toray Knit Exhibition, where he presented clothing pieces people could use to mix and match to suit different occasions.

His popularity rose during the early 1970s when he participated in the New York and Paris collections. Miyake’s monokuzuri, or way of making things, continued until he started the concept of a Piece of Cloth. The idea explores the relationship between the body, the cloth, and the space and room. He also studied and experimented with new and existing techniques that led to new fabrics using the technologies currently available.

In the following decade, Miyake’s monokozuri explored more of the body’s motions and form and challenged himself to create garments using materials apart from cloth. Following this exploration, he began working on a new type of clothing to fit the era’s modern and informal lifestyle, resulting in the launch of a new clothing line that people could wear regardless of gender, age, and body shape.

Miyake revolutionized haute couture and laid the foundation for avant-garde designers worldwide. But his presence and influence helped start the Japanese Avant-garde with the rise of two norm-breaking designers. Miyake, Rei Kawakubo, and Yohji Yamamoto brought a new type of creativity that started a fashion trend unique to Japanese fashion.

“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.” -Issey Miyake

Reimagining Fashion

Miyake’s contributions to the fashion world continued with his use of original fabrics and the birth of many other concepts. In 1993, he presented his most successful collection, Pleats Please. Miyake reinvented the traditional pleats by doing the process the other way around. It created a more defined pattern and mesmerizing look in the designs.

In the ’90s, he decided to evolve his 1976 concept of Apiece-of-Cloth (A-POC), where clothes use a single piece of cloth. The developed concept allowed Issey to promote the idea of the reuse of fabrics in fashion. His latter designs also used computer-generated techniques, believing that technology is essential in transforming and evolving fashion.

 “The purpose – where I start – is the idea of use. It is not recycling- it’s reuse.” -Issey Miyake

Miyake’s contributions to fashion are significant to the development of the industry in the 21st century. His concepts made fashion not only an aesthetic made for a selected group but for everyone.  He believed in the idea of reusable clothing and fashion for all.

On August 5, 2022, Miyake passed away due to liver cancer. He was 84, and based on his accomplishments, it was a life boldly lived!


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Through timely and thoughtful articles, the book Project Bold Life: The Proven Formula to Take on Challenges and Achieve Happiness and Success, and other media, we deliver engaging content that educates, motivates and inspires you to live a Bold Life.
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