Issey Miyake: Clothes Beyond the Reach of Time

Article by Margherita Gardella

Photography by Ram Shergill

Make Up by Natasha Lakic using Sisley and Mac Pro

Model Genesis Vallejo Mota @Select

Issey Miyake is first and foremost a creator of a unique oeuvre, which has always drawn on all disciplines and various forms of practice and research.

Undoubtedly Miyake is one of the few figures to have taken clothing design into the realm of art.

His work has always produced before fundamental questions about the nature of clothing itself, which dominated his career from the 1970s until the present day.

Miyake has consciously rejected the label of ‘fashion designer’, defining himself as ‘clothes maker’ or simply ‘designer’ instead.

A true innovator, more than forty years ago he worked at the beginning of a new era in clothing that introduced a style to the streets that appeared to belong only to a fantasy world of ephemeral pleasure.

Miyake’s designs have been conspicuous for their absence of eroticism. There is no voluptuousness in his work as such, but rather it delights with its purity and form. This delight seems to have replaced the desire. Miyake’s delight lies in a world of abstract forms.

These astonishing forms that are paired with beautiful textures have offered genius photographer Irving Penn the very subjects that echo both a ‘primitive’ beauty and the most futuristic fashion. There had been an extraordinary collaboration between the two, Miyake and Penn, for more than a decade, which had been conducted intuitively from different continents.

Examining a Miyake dress made of a fabric woven with cotton and white horsehair, Penn had remarked that ‘it looks like imperial Japan’.

Penn defined Miyake’s design by arranging them against the white backdrop. Spirals, curves, angles and Miyake’s geometric inventory are made explicit.

In 1978 the book ‘East Meets West’ was published, proposing that the very idea of ‘East’ and ‘West’ has disappeared today. Miyake suggested with this title that the two polarities had become one.  He affirmed that ‘It is unavoidable, it’s the obligatory departure point for those who wish to address a global audience’.

The barriers that separated East and West are diminishing. The sources of inspiration are global, stretching across continents from Africa to Miyake’s Japan.

Miyake had one great ally: the sculptor Isamu Noguchi who provided him with a touchstone. Noguchi could draw from both Eastern and Western traditions. His creativity existed at a point zero between the cultural divide. Such a position was and is not only extraordinary but profoundly modern. One of his final sculptures combining a male and female form stands in the courtyard of Miyake’s studio.



Miyake occupies an unusual position within Japan. He has strongly resisted the label of‘Japanese Designer’, as which he has been described often by the international press. Miyake is not restricted by national identity but has always constantly aspired to create universal designs.

Using the most advanced printing techniques Issey Miyake transported his designs onto Pleats Please garments in 1993. This last collaboration, far from seeming final, gave rise to several new directions and demonstrated the absolute necessity of always going beyond the horizon: Pleats Please Issey Miyake is a comprehensive response to the evolution of the condition of woman. At the same time it is functional and goes beyond the fads and general trends.

Everyone is talking about fashion or trends but Miyake is happy to simply talk about his work – making clothes, ‘making things’, never to fall into decadence.


Issey Miyake said that he would be very happy if it was said about him that he provided some keys to the 21st century.

Nowadays everyone is applauding – not least the world of fashion.

One has to look to the future and draw from the diversity of a truly global culture, a culture that the future promises.

All images taken with LEICA Camera at Studio S, London.