Issey Miyake, who died on August 5 at the age of 84, hated being described as a fashion designer. He preferred to be called a designer who was in the business of making clothes. Fashion, to him, signified vulgar consumption that paid obeisance to fleeting trends and ran counter to his own approach: The Japanese designer claimed that he would want his customer to be able to pair their trendy pants with a sweater he designed 10 years ago.
Witnessing the 1968 student riots in Paris shaped Miyake’s ideas about fashion. He was working with the legendary couturier Hubert de Givenchy at the time, and grew disenchanted with making clothes for a privileged few. He believed beautiful couture should also be accessible and functional. This new approach, combined with his passion for technology and research, gave rise to such innovations as his bestselling Pleats Please line comprising permanently pleated clothes that are crease-resistant and machine-washable and the instantly popular and widely plagiarised Bao Bao bags with vinyl triangles sewn onto polyester mesh which changed shape as they were used. Long before sustainability became a buzzword in fashion, he created the A-POC line — A Piece of Cloth — in which a pre-programmed machine wove an enormous tube of cloth with outlines for garments that could be cut out, with little wastage.
Miyake, who was born in Hiroshima in 1938, was seven years old when the Enola Gay flew over his hometown and devastated it with an atomic bomb. His mother died three years later due to radiation poisoning, while Miyake, who had been injured, developed a pronounced limp. This was something he rarely spoke about as he did not want to be known as the man who “survived Hiroshima”. The experience, however, did manifest itself in his philosophy of design — he preferred, he said, “to think of things that can be created, not destroyed, and that bring beauty and joy”.