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Issey Miyake, circa 1995
Issey Miyake SS95via

Going back in time with one of Japan’s greatest designers

An exhibition devoted to Issey Miyake – fashion’s pleat provocateur – is coming to Tokyo

“Many people will say, well, clothes should be worn: but I think people can look at them in public, like seeing a film,” said Issey Miyake. “I think museum exhibitions are very important.” That’s just as well because an exhibition devoted to the Hiroshima-born designer’s work is scheduled to open at The National Art Center, Tokyo next March.

Titled MIYAKE ISSEY EXHIBITION: The Work of Miyake Issey, the exhibition will chart his illustrious 45-year career, from the conception of his brand in 1970 right up to the present day. It will be divided into three rooms, with the first one showing the designer’s approaches to making clothes, and the second one focussing on his clothes’ relationship with the human body and the third on the five significant original ways of making clothes. While Miyake is known for his pleats – a theme that crops up again and again in his work – and his iconic BAO BAO ISSEY MIYAKE bags, there is so much more to this designer than folded cloth and geometric bags; as this exhibition will testify.

Heavily futuristic, Miyake’s work is marked by his experimentation and innovation – from the way he makes his clothes to the very fabric they are made of. He’s pushed the very vocabulary of fashion, introducing new shapes and silhouettes that border on sculpture and using materials as new and disparate as Japanese washi paper, horsehair and raffia.

“I wanted the clothes to move when people moved. The clothes are also for people to dance or laugh” – Issey Miyake

But despite his futuristic approach and bold experimentation, his clothes always come back to one theme: the body – a subject that this exhibition will explore in depth. “From the beginning I thought about working with the body in movement, the space between the body and clothes,” he said famously. “I wanted the clothes to move when people moved. The clothes are also for people to dance or laugh.”

Throughout his career, Miyake’s shows have reflected this preoccupation – from his SS99 show which saw the models walk the finale all connected by a long tube of fabric to rapturous applause and a standing ovation, to his AW11 show which saw the designer’s assistants assemble origami-like garments onto the models’ bodies in front of an enraptured live audience. 

The designer is also one half of a collaboration to rival Helmut Newton and Yves Saint Laurent or Juergen Teller and Marc Jacobs. Throughout the 90s, he worked intimately with legendary photographer Irving Penn, with whom he created everything from advertising campaigns to published works. (This relationship was the subject of a recent exhibition itself.) “Through his eyes, Penn-san reinterprets the clothes, gives them new breath, and presents them to me from a new vantage point.” Miyake said of the photographer. “Penn shows me what I do.”

MIYAKE ISSEY EXHIBITION: The Work of Miyake Issey will run from Wednesday, March 16 to Monday, June 13, 2016 at the National Art Center, Tokyo