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Aug 9, 2022
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Fashion innovator Issey Miyake dies at 84

Aug 9, 2022

Japanese fashion designer Issey Miyake, whose global career spanned more than half a century, has died aged 84 of cancer, it emerged on August 9.

Photo Reuters

He died on August 5 and his funeral has already taken place, with "only relatives participating" in line with his wishes.

Miyake was part of a wave of young Japanese designers who made their mark in Paris from the mid-1970s. He pioneered high-tech, comfortable clothing, side-stepping the grandiosity of haute couture in favour of what he called simply "making things”.

He established the Miyake Design Studio in Tokyo in 1970, and soon afterwards opened his first Paris boutique. The fashion innovator said he was driven to create clothes that "bring beauty and joy" after witnessing the horrors of Hiroshima.

Alongside Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto, Miyake was part of a wave of young Japanese designers who made their mark in the French capital from the mid-1970s, following the lead of fashion greats Kenzo Takada and Hanae Mori.

Among his innovations was the Pleats Please line of permanently pleated items that don’t crease. The futuristic triangles of Miyake's geometric Bao Bao bag were much-copied and he made more than 100 black turtlenecks for his friend, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.

Miyake also impressed runway audiences with his A-POC (A Piece Of Cloth) concept, using computer programming to cut whole garments with no seams.

"When I grow weary with where I'm going, or when I stumble, I'll return to the theme of 'A Piece of Cloth'," Miyake said in 2006 after winning the prestigious Kyoto Prize.

"From ancient times, in Greece or Africa, every culture has started (making clothes) from a single piece of cloth, or skin," he explained.


Born in Hiroshima in 1938, Miyake was just seven years old when the US dropped an atomic bomb on the city in August 1945. He survived the blast, which led to the end of World War II after the bombing of Nagasaki three days later.

Although the bombing left him with a lifelong limp, he rarely spoke of his trauma, once breaking his silence in a 2009 New York Times article calling for nuclear disarmament.

"When I close my eyes, I still see things no one should ever experience: a bright red light, the black cloud soon after, people running in every direction trying desperately to escape," he wrote. "I remember it all. Within three years, my mother died from radiation exposure.”

Having graduated from Tama Art University in Tokyo, Miyake moved to Paris in 1965, where he studied at the elite Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne.

As a young designer he worked under Guy Laroche and Givenchy, but his outlook was also influenced by the huge student-led uprising of May 1968.

Seeing protests engulf the French capital made him realise "the world was moving beyond the needs of haute couture for the few and towards simple more universal elements such as jeans and T-shirts," Miyake told CNN in 2016.

After establishing the Miyake Design Studio and opening his first Paris boutique, he continued to innovate and by the 1980s, he was experimenting with materials from plastic to metal wire and even artisanal Japanese paper.

Teamwork was essential to Miyake, who preferred the anonymity of his research and development lab full of textile scientists and engineers to the bright lights of the catwalk.

"You always see things in a different way when you allow others to become part of a creative process," he told the New York Times.

He pulled back from designing his Paris collections at the turn of the century and has since given a series of talented young designers their big break.

But he continued to oversee the brand, and his obsession with technology endured -- with everything from fabrics to stitching explained in minute detail in the notes of every catwalk show.

Miyake is especially revered in France, whose former culture minister Jack Lang came to Tokyo in 2016 to award him the Legion of Honour at a major retrospective.

Lang, who still wears Miyake pieces he bought many years ago, described the designer in October 2021 as a "man of a deep humanity, open to everything”.

"Issey Miyake is a researcher, a discoverer, a real inventor who conceived of and used new materials and textures the world had never seen," he told AFP.

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