Firmly on the side of the guerrilla that believes “a piece of cloth” is not mere “fashion,” Issey Miyake recounts 45 years of his career with an extensive exhibition in Tokyo.
The Spanish-Basque sculptor Eduardo Chillida commented once that all serious and important things are alike, having elements with infinite variations but never identical. Seeing the human body under such frame, the complex task of dressing it has created a vast culture that has transformed more rapidly than ever in the last 100 years.
Today there is a paradox between the notion of clothing and fashion, and one wonders what is the relevance of a simple piece of cloth once worn over the body. For critics as Bernard Rudofsky dress culture’s primary function is not about protection, modesty or ornament but about visual stimulation and desire. While many of the figures engaged in the fashion industry are obsessed with nurturing vogues, others as Japanese cloth designer Issey Miyake remain firmly with the sight on the future and on the side of the guerrilla that believes “a piece of cloth” is not mere “fashion”.
“Miyake Issey Exhibition: The work of Miyake Issey,” ongoing at the National Art Center Tokyo from March 16th, is the most comprehensive of his work until today. The show tracks 45 years of his career from the 70’s to his most recent creations. Born in Hiroshima Prefecture in 1938, Miyake belongs to the generation that rebuilt Japan during the Postwar period. Hence his approach to creativity relies on experimentation, fabrication, inventiveness and especially on team work and collaboration.
In his own words, Miyake understands design as an “act of discovery” and regards himself as a man that makes things, under the Japanese tradition of mono-tsukuri (making things). Through almost five decades of experience since he founded his design studio in 1970, he has collaborated with several figures in the creative world such as Isamu Noguchi, Irving Penn and Ikko Tanaka. Aware of his leading role in the world of design, his latest efforts have been towards the creation of a design museum in Japan that can hand over the baton to the younger generation of designers.
Opened in 2007, the same year its designer Kisho Kurokawa passed away, The National Art Center Tokyo is one of the largest institutions in its category in the country. For the display and visual design of the show Miyake opted to collaborate again, as he has done in other previous projects, with acclaimed Japanese artist-designer Tokujin Yoshioka and graphic designer Taku Satoh. Divided in three main rooms (A /B/C), the visitor can experience diverse spatial atmospheres and scales along with materials, shapes and technologies that have transformed the evolution of the work of Issey Miyake.
Room A, opens the exhibition organized as a long white corridor displaying the very first works of Miyake on the 70’s. During these first years of establishment, the studio of Miyake was focusing on ideas of freedom and pursuing to discover the essence of wrapping the three dimensional body with something two dimensional as a fabric. For Miyake there is a mutual dialogue between body and cloth, and the space between them is also his object of design. According to Yoshioka, who was in charge of the spatial design for the first two rooms, the human body is the protagonist in these two sections. Hence he carefully designed mannequins by stacking transversal sections of a prototypical human body, made of cardboard for this area of the exhibition and acrylic for the following room.
The next section is conceived as a room with diffused light, dissolving the transparent acrylic mannequins designed by Yoshioka and enhancing some of the material qualities that Miyake was interested in during the 80’s. It is in this period that his practice started to emphasize his experimentation on the body as an entity to enhance and design through clothing. Here some of the works on display stand as his philosophical manifestoes of that period, with corset-like pieces made of FRP (fiber reinforced plastic) meant to be worn by fictitious bodies, shown rather as objects of self-representation. An alchemist of materials and mathematician of geometries, Miyake created from here a dialogue between Eastern and Western values with his flowing curves in combination with traditional materials and fabrication technologies.
The image of Issey Miyake as a maker of things is consolidated in the last and largest Room C. Here Satoh designed under a festive spirit the wide range of themes and variations that the designer has undertaken until today. Miyake acknowledges here his prolific creations to his team work mentality, under which his ideas are able to cross-pollinate infinitely. The art of transforming a two dimensional piece of cloth into a three dimensional one can be seen on work in this section, advocating for pleats on fabrics as one of the most distinctive features on Miyake’s cloth production. Created in 1993, PLEATS PLEASE was the first line that materialized these experimentations, and later others such as A-POC in 1998 started to be more aware of environmental issues, eliminating practically all waste of materials during the fabrication process. More recently we learn that other creations such as 132 5.ISSEY MIYAKE or IN-EI ISSEY MIYAKE lamps have evolved as the product of multi-disciplinary research inside Miyake’s Reality Lab along with intensive material experimentation and keen attention to the human factor.
There are two interesting aspects to think about in this exhibition. One is obviously to reconsider retrospectively the evolution and relevance of the work of this ‘thing maker’ as Miyake defines himself. The other are the lessons that a man with such experience is attempting to give to the audience through small hints. Regarding the first, we can see his many creations under a strict Darwinian process in which new and stronger species of clothing have emerged, hybridized and adapted to the conditions of the historical moment and culture in which they were inscribed, taking advantage of the traditions and technologies available. Regarding the second, we read for instance his opening essay in the catalogue of the exhibition in which he starts writing: “departures are often accompanied by certain expectations and anxieties”. Even the fact that his name in the title of the exhibition is displayed in the Japanese order, with family name before and first name following, might aim to say something for a man who designs even the slightest detail. Miyake Issey might be starting to reconcile his ideas with his origins, or maybe simply starting to get ready for creating his next piece of cloth.