5 defining moments that shaped the fashion legend

    (AFP via Getty Images)

(AFP via Getty Images)

Beloved fashion maven Issey Miyake has died aged 84 after a battle with liver cancer.

As tributes continue to pour in from friends, family and the fashion world, we take a moment to look back at the Japanese designer’s most pivotal career move. It is an inspiring story about how a seven-year-old boy survived the tragedy in Hiroshima and became one of the world’s greatest designers of all time.

Over a 52-year career, the list of Mikaye’s achievements and innovations is immeasurable. To help paint a broader picture of the designer’s life, we’ve zoomed in on five key moments…

From Tokyo to Paris… and back again

Issey Miyake was born in Hiroshima in 1938, and was seven when he survived the bombing in 1945. His mother died of radiation poisoning three years later, though he rarely spoke of this, telling the New York Times in 2009: “I didn’t want to be labeled ‘the designer who survived the atomic bomb'”.

He later moved from Hiroshima to Tokyo to study graphic design, before finally making the leap from Japan to France in his twenties, where he studied in Paris at the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne. He is said to have found his love of fashion by studying his sister’s magazines, although he also wanted to be a dancer and a fascination with the human form had already sprouted.

He was soon apprenticed to Guy Laroche, and then to Hubert de Givenchy, for whom he worked on 50 to 100 sketches daily. It was during Miyake’s time working for Givenchy that the French designer created some of Audrey Hepburn’s most iconic looks.

Five years later – with invaluable training now under his belt – in 1970 Miyake returned to Tokyo where he opened the Miyake Design Studio.

A young Issey Miyake (AFP via Getty Images)

A young Issey Miyake (AFP via Getty Images)

Pleats please!

In 1993, Issey Miyake launched Pleats Please – arguably the most recognizable branch of his work. Pieces from the collection could just as easily debut in 2022 as in the 90s; their effortless, oyster mushroom-like texture, as delicate as they are striking. Within Miyake’s ocean of knowledge, his folds were the waves that caused ripples in every corner of the planet.

That said, unbeknownst to anyone, his inspiration was drawn from a designer who came before him. Mariano Fortuny opened his couture house in 1906 and based his dresses on the simple and light Greek tunic. Like Miyake, Fortuny wanted to play with the natural lines of the body, and did so with effortless comfort for the wearer.

Pleats were a signature of Fortuny’s creations, but in the 80s, fashion editor Sylviia Rubin credited Miyake with “reinventing” the Fortuny pleat. Now sewn into the Miyake DNA, the process of developing Pleats Please starts with a garment that is two or three times larger than its intended size, before shrinking through the folding and ironing process.

    (AFP via Getty Images)

(AFP via Getty Images)

When Issey met Irving…

In 1983, Issey Miyake met legendary fashion photographer Irving Penn while both were working on an editorial shoot for American Vogue. The result of the meeting was a 13-year collaboration, several books and some of the most valuable images of Miyake’s work in existence. Miyake felt that Penn captured the essence of his collections like no other photographer, and together the two were able to celebrate and showcase the incomparable range of their individual talents by working together.

    (Irving Penn, Issey Miyake staircase dress, June 1994)

(Irving Penn, Issey Miyake staircase dress, June 1994)

The collaborations, 1996 – 1999

Miyake has often been asked (as many designers have), is fashion art? Or should fashion be art? In response, he has always avoided the question. Instead, in 1996 he began a series of collaborations that showcased art and fashion hand in hand. He worked with the incredible Japanese photographers Yasumasa Morimura and Nobuyoshi Araki, as well as the American artist Tim Hawkinson, and later the Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang.

For his 1999 collection in collaboration with Cai Guo-Qiang, Miyake buried a series of white Pleats Please pieces under explosives, only to light the match and watch as gunpowder scorched the fabric, creating large splashes of a dragon-like pattern.

    (AFP via Getty Images)

(AFP via Getty Images)

Issey Miyake perfume

In 2014, Miyake told the New York Times “clothes are the closest thing to all people”, so it’s no wonder that a man obsessed with the human form came out with a perfume. In 1992, Issey Miyake released L’EAU D’ISSEY, a bottle that is now instantly recognizable and, for some people, even more iconic than his folds.

While living in Paris, Miyake watched the full moon rise over the Eiffel Tower; the shadow it cast sparked his inspiration for the shape of the bottle (triangular, with a crystal ball on top). The name of the fragrance came from a play on words: ‘L’eau d’Issey’ when pronounced correctly sounds exactly like ‘L’Odyssey’.

When it was first launched in 1992, L’eau d’Issey is said to have sold out every 14 seconds.

    (Irving Penn / Issey Miyake)

(Irving Penn / Issey Miyake)

Issey Miyake designs are where maximalists and minimalists shake hands: the centerpiece of the venn diagram respected equally by all, whatever your own personal style. Miyake is as beloved by Versace lovers as it is by Supreme obsessives and The Row fanatics. Moreover, his work served as the bridge between generations and cultures. As popular with 60-year-olds as he is with 20-year-olds, he was loved by all and even lowered his prices to make his work more accessible to his devoted followers.

Many who own Issey Miyake pieces will own them for life. And just as we will keep his folders in our wardrobes forever, we will also forever remember the genius behind them.

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