How Issey Miyake’s Innovative Designs Changed Fashion

TThere are very few fashion designers whose names have been so associated with fashion innovation like Issey Myake. This Japanese artist, who was known for his avant-garde designs, sharp pleating and signature scents, has become a household name. Miyake, who was 84 years old, succumbed to liver cancer. He died in Tokyo on Aug. 5. The Miyake Design Studio announced his death on August 9, the creative and pioneering hub that he established in 1970.

During his lifetime, Miyake’s work in fashion earned acclaim for its technological precision and artistic value. Miyake’s origami-like pleating style was both an engineering feat and a fashion statement. And his design ethos was refreshingly democratic; he believed in creating items that were beautifully made, but also comfortable, affordable, and practical enough for everyday use by everyday people—garments that transcended gender, size, race, and age.

In this, Miyake’s approach to design was innately humane, a quality that was no doubt influenced by his life experiences. He was a Hiroshima-born child who survived the 1945 atomic bomb drop by the U.S. and lost his mother to radiation poisoning three years later. While Miyake was very private about this event throughout his career and about his personal life, he shared how the Hiroshima attack affected him deeply, writing an important 2009 editorial for The New York Times TimesProtest against nuclear weapons

Miyake, who famously said that “design is not for philosophy—it’s for life” was dedicated to work that was functional, accessible, and joyful. Here, a look back at four of Miyake’s most popular and innovative creations.


Please on Paris runway November 1994. (Photo by Yoshikazu TSUNO—AFP/Getty Images)

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In the ’80s, Miyake pioneered a patented style of permanent micro-pleating that used a heat-treating system to create a distinctive and durable look. Miyake used a complex process to pleat already-assembled clothes. This included making the garments twice or three times its final size, before folding and ironing and then lacing it with heat press paper. Adding the texture to the sewn garments ensured that Miyake’s pleated creations could be machine washed and air dried without losing their shape. Pleats Please was the name of the entire collection that Miyake launched in 1993. It is still in production today and very sought-after.

Issey Myake perfumes and fragrances

Miyake launched his first perfume, L’Eau d’Issey, in conjunction with Japanese cosmetics giant Shiseido in 1992. The name of the perfume and the top notes were inspired by Miyake. Miyake considered water the most important material, and the source of his inspiration. His perfume was a hit thanks to the fresh, airy fragrance and the striking bottle. Miyake took the name of the Eiffel Tower and the view of the moon from the apartment in Paris. In the time since L’Eau d’Issey launched, Miyake released more than 100 different perfumes and colognes.

Steve Jobs’ signature black turtleneck

Steve Jobs October 2004.

Tim Mosenfelder—Getty Images

The late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs’ uniform—a black turtleneck, jeans, and sneakers—has become the stuff of Silicon Valley legend, even leading the disgraced would-be tech mogul, Elizabeth Holmes, to copy his trademark look. It was Miyake’s work that first inspired Jobs to create his uniform. According to Walter Isaacson, Jobs’ biographer, the tech pioneer visited Sony’s headquarters in Japan in the early ’80s and was struck by the employees’ futuristic yet simple uniform vests, designed by Miyake in 1981 for the company’s 35th anniversary. Taken with Sony’s concept of the uniform as a way to help employees bond with one another, establish a sense of belonging within the company, and maintain professionalism, Jobs reached out to Miyake to make a similar jacket for Apple. Jobs was enamored with the idea and decided to make one. For his look, he famously selected Levi’s 501 jeans, New Balance sneakers, and custom Issey Miyake black turtleneck sweaters, which he bought in bulk for $175 each, eventually amassing a collection of more than 100 of them.

Bao Bao bags

Bao Bao bag was spotted in Paris on June 20, 2020.

Edward Berthelot—Getty Images

In a world filled with designer bags that double as status symbols, Miyake’s Bao Bao bag is associated with intellect, artistry, and creativity, lending its wearer the sense that they can channel all these traits. The bag made its debut in 2000 as the Bilbao, named after the Spanish city’s arresting Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum; the building’s many planes were echoed in the bag design. The bag was renamed to the Bao Bao as part of an effort to rebrand. It is now available in many variations, including totes and fanny packs. The Bao Bao, which features a mesh fabric and interlocking triangles of polyvinyl, is designed to inspire geometric wonder. Its wearer can fill it with personal belongings while changing shapes.

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