22 November 2016

Issey Miyake's Visual Dialogue

"The Work of Issey Miyake" was an intensified exhibition allowing us to step into the designer's mind while simultaneously opening our own minds to expand the boundaries of thought. The unique retrospective covered his entire career, from 1970's Janis Joplin/Jimi Hendrix second-skin body wear, to the futuristic developments and technologies that create garments destined for 2025. Stripping things down to their most basic form, physical and social needs demand that we wear clothes and so he initially focused on the wearer to explore the relationship between a piece of cloth and the human body. Miyake combines unconventional innovation and unparalleled comfort, bringing them together in people’s daily lives through wearable, flattering and experimental collections. As news strikes of Japan's earthquake, I look back at the exhibition that stands as a highlight of my time in Tokyo.


It all began in 1960 when the World Design conference was being held for the first time in Japan. The organisers received a letter from one Issey Miyake, then a student at Tama Art University, outlining the absence of clothing at the event. The letter detailed that clothing is connected to us and our lives in a way that other forms of design can't claim. Although he trained in couture in Paris, Miyake was a graduate in graphic design; the combination of the two allowing you to make sense of the contradictions and ever-evolving nature of his brand.

Room A
The first was a long, narrow room with 12 mannequins created from grid-structured cardboard, showcasing early design solutions and bringing a plethora of themes to the forefront of your mind - themes that are sure to resurface throughout the exhibition. Traditional weaves and textiles were fused with constant experimentation in fabric-making and construction, highlighting his deep respect for the existing and equally his desire to shape his own future. Speaking of shape, the shape of the garments are nothing without the movement of the body to bring them to life. When flat, a garment can simply look like, and arguably is just a pile of fabric and it's not much more than that until it has the posture, expression and motion of the body to give it purpose.

Room B
In another room designed by Tokujin Yoshioka, transparent acrylic mannequins modelled the garments against the whitewash walls, providing no distraction from the pieces. The freedom and looseness of the previous room was juxtaposed by garments moulded from human torsos in fibre-reinforced plastic and other materials that had never been used to make clothes before. Waterfall pieces cropped up among the staggered mannequins, giving the right amount of seamless drape to a largely synthetic section of the exhibition. A single piece of clothing created using a single piece of cloth is something so spectacularly inventive and intuitive - simple in theory but a technical experiment in form, texture and waste-free construction. The focus in this room lay mainly on pieces from the eighties and an industrial/sculptured aesthetic that was like looking at the West through an Easterner's eye. Although not an obvious progression from the first room, the link was the innovation factor and the consistent ability to create something completely new and do it before anyone else - bona fide Issey Miyake.

Room C
Serving as a utopia of sorts, the third room encapsulated and grouped the themes that motivated Miyake. Some mannequins poured out of rolls of fabric hanging from the ceiling and others were rigidly lined up and grouped with others of their kind as though a military order. Fabric is of course of utmost importance when designing clothes and his tradition/futuristic approach has lead to experimentation with everything from Japanese washi paper, horsehair and raffia to innovative fabric surface treatments, heat-cut and moulding textiles into shape and needle punching to produce unique textures. Alongside "Pleat Island" and PLEATS PLEASE pieces, is a working pleat machine, giving daily demonstrations of how Miyake's iconic pleats are made. The pieces of cloth are pleated after they're sewn to give very sharp, defined lines, playing with the space between body and clothing. The “garment pleating” process he devised allowed the creation of a whole new species of utilitarian clothes - inventive, durable, stylish and extremely functional.

 Figuratively, an Issey Miyake garment is little more than a piece of cloth. With the basic and really quite humble aim of creating wearable solutions to basic human needs, he has raised topics like socially responsible production, protecting tradition, advancing techniques and allowing different cultures to inspire his work. The man is an originator; he pioneers new ways of making fabrics using unexplored textiles and finishing techniques. Not just that, but these fabrics then go on to form garments in shapes and structures, or with no shape or structure, in a way that no-one else dares even flirt with the idea of. Miyake's dedication to testing new solutions has developed a completely original body of work to fluently meld expressive, unique and logical in his own visual dialogue.