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TOKYO.- An exhibition devoted to designer Issey Miyake is on view until June 13, 2016 at the National Art Center, Tokyo. The Center has considered design to be an important exhibition theme since it opened in 2007 and is devoted to presenting a wide range of artistic expressions and proposing new perspectives. 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, from his earliest work to his latest projects, and his explorations of greater creative possibilities in the future. This exhibition provides viewers with an opportunity to expand the boundaries of their thought and stimulate their creativity, allowing everyone, young and old alike, to experience the joy of creation.  

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 Issey Miyake photographed in New York in 1988 by Irving Penn.

Displaying Miyake’s Ideas about Making Clothes 
Acutely aware of temporal and social needs, Issey Miyake makes clothes that place the utmost importance on human beings. This is evident from Miyake’s comment that he hopes “to make clothes like jeans and T-shirts that many people can wear freely.” 
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, we present the production process Miyake uses to make his pleated products. 

The work of Issey Miyake spawns over forty years of intense experimentation with a keen attention to the human factor. With both striking coherence and a constant eagerness to test new solutions, in fabric-making as well as in clothes-making ― the two activities being intrinsically intertwined in his views of bold innovator ― Issey Miyake has developed a unique body of work, at once formally inventive, soulful and pragmatic. He is a designer, first and foremost: he makes things. Issey Miyake creates wearable solutions to basic human needs. That's what clothes, far from being an expression of status, wealth or even sex appeal, represent for him. 

Over the years, Issey Miyake has staged numerous exhibitions as a way to mark the turning points in his ongoing research. MIYAKE ISSEY EXHIBITION: The work of Miyake Issey is, so far, the most comprehensive overview of the Issey Miyake oeuvre as a whole, and, as such, it is the first of its kind. With its vastness, depth and detail, it shows the basic principles of Issey Miyake's design drive and the ever-evolving solutions he has developed. Just like the previous exhibitions, it keeps an active outlook, marking the beginning of a new phase. 

Issey Miyake's work stems from a challenging yet elementary question: how to wrap the body, which is three dimensional, with fabric, which is two dimensional, without forgetting that the body is also alive and moving. Issey Miyake's answers raise topics such as freedom, invention, cultural cross-pollination, innovation, tradition, environmental awareness. All this is intertwined in a profoundly cohesive gamut of different creations. Issey Miyake's work is, metaphorically speaking, a piece of cloth, just as much as using pieces of cloth has been his main creative challenge over the years. 

The exhibition is divided into three rooms.  

Room A 
The body is the starting point of all the design practices related to clothing. As a tangible presence, it makes designs come alive through gestures, movement, postures. Issey Miyake has always put the body, its physicality as well as its needs, at the center of his design activities. However, right from the beginning of his career, his views on the matter have never been predictable. He trained in couture in Paris, in fact, but he was a graduate in graphic design: his take on clothes-making is singular for DNA. 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. 

 

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ISSEY MIYAKE, Tatoo, Spring-Summer 1971, 1970. Photo: Hiroshi Iwasaki.

 

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ISSEY MIYAKE, Linen Jumpsuits, Spring-Summer 1976, 1975. Photo: Hiroshi Iwasaki. 

Room B 
The human body, intended as a presence to enhance, streamline and redesign, is central in the work of Issey Miyake, in the Eighties 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 eminently hedonistic decade. He actually anticipated a whole movement, proposing the first body-centered creations already in 1980. All of this is exposed in Room B, creating a counterpoint and a suspension to the rest of the Issey Miyake’s oeuvre. 

Issey Miyake's work in this phase carries on the uttermost 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.  

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ISSEY MIYAKE, Waterfall Body, Autumn-Winter 1984, 1984. Photo: Hiroshi Iwasaki

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. As a result, the almost abstract forms that derive from a single piece of cloth free the body from any constriction, while reacting differently to different body shapes, making clothing truly personal, in an unfussy, immediate way. 

Room C explores the main themes of Issey Miyake's innovative drive and groups them in thematic clusters. A link unites them in a whole, however, because in the Miyake design studio cross-pollination is an essential practice. 

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 needlepunching that produces unique textures by laying layers of different materials. 

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ISSEY MIYAKE, Horsehair, Autumn-Winter 1990, 1990. Photo: Hiroshi Iwasaki.

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ISSEY MIYAKE, Colombe, Spring-Summer 1991, 1990. Photo: Hiroshi Iwasaki

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. Room C actively shows the pleating process as well, revealing the keen engineering that is required in order to pleat a piece that is already sewn. 

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ISSEY MIYAKE, Blade of Grass Pleats, Spring-Summer 1990, 1989. Photo: Hiroshi Iwasaki.

Making things: this is how Issey Miyake defines his activity. Wearable things, in his views, have to be made in respect of the individual as well as in respect of the environment. A-POC and 132 5. ISSEY MIYAKE are the result of such convictions, almost thirteen years apart from one another. A-POC is a revolutionary process that Miyake developed with Dai Fujiwara in 1998, that allows to shape clothes integrally through the production of a tubular piece of knit fabric, virtually erasing all waste while doing away with cutting and sewing. Starting in knit, and evolving in wovens, A-POC is the one piece of cloth quest brought to levels of groundbreaking invention.  

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. Room C also shows, on 1:2 scale mannequins, the 132 5. ISSEY MIYAKE key pieces, giving visitors the possibility to intersect with this playful objects and discover their useful magic.

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ISSEY MIYAKE, Flying Saucer, Spring-Summer 1994, 1993. Photo: Koji Udo
ISSEY MIYAKE, No.10 Skirt, 2010. Photo: Koji Udo

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ISSEY MIYAKE, No.1 Dress, No.1 Jacket, 2010. Photo: Hiroshi Iwasaki.
ISSEY MIYAKE, No. 1 Dress, 2010. Photo: Hiroshi Iwasaki

 

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ISSEY MIYAKE, No. 1 Dress, 2010. Photo: Hiroshi Iwasaki. 

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ISSEY MIYAKE, Square Wool, Vol.4, 2015. Photo: Hiroshi Iwasaki.

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Body of work: part of the current Miyake Issey Exhibition at the National Art Centre Tokyo. Photograph: Masaya Yoshimura.

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Hat stand: a ‘body’ made from rattan and bamboo using traditional techniques for the shows in 1981. Photograph: Masaya Yoshimura

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Body of work: part of the current Miyake Issey Exhibition at the National Art Centre Tokyo. Photograph: Masaya Yoshimura.

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Body of work: part of the current Miyake Issey Exhibition at the National Art Centre Tokyo. Photograph: Masaya Yoshimura.

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Body of work: part of the current Miyake Issey Exhibition at the National Art Centre Tokyo. Photograph: Masaya Yoshimura.

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Body of work: part of the current Miyake Issey Exhibition at the National Art Centre Tokyo. Photograph: Masaya Yoshimura.

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Body of work: part of the current Miyake Issey Exhibition at the National Art Centre Tokyo. Photograph: Masaya Yoshimura.

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Body of work: part of the current Miyake Issey Exhibition at the National Art Centre Tokyo. Photograph: Masaya Yoshimura.

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Body of work: part of the current Miyake Issey Exhibition at the National Art Centre Tokyo. Photograph: Masaya Yoshimura.

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Body of work: part of the current Miyake Issey Exhibition at the National Art Centre Tokyo. Photograph: Masaya Yoshimura. 

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Body of work: part of the current Miyake Issey Exhibition at the National Art Centre Tokyo. Photograph: Masaya Yoshimura.

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Body of work: part of the current Miyake Issey Exhibition at the National Art Centre Tokyo. Photograph: Masaya Yoshimura.

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This picture shows journalists looking at creations by Japanese designer Issey Miyake during a press preview of the Miyake Issey Exhibition at the National Art Center in Tokyo. TORU YAMANAKA / AFP.

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This picture shows journalists looking at creations by Japanese designer Issey Miyake during a press preview of the Miyake Issey Exhibition at the National Art Center in Tokyo. TORU YAMANAKA / AFP.