A few years ago I got a call from a young journalist who said her magazine was planning a fashion feature on women with big vintage dresses. ‘And my editor says she believes you have an enormous Issey Miyake collection?’ Er, yes I do, I replied. I’ve been buying it for over 30 years, but when I bought it, every piece was new – to me it wasn’t a collection of museum archive pieces, but a working wardrobe. I didn’t go as far as the late architect Zeha Hadid, who only wore Miyake, but the Japanese designer was a style staple for me. I write about fashion for a large part of my career and I love many labels, many designers. But, confession time, I have a couple of Mike’s runway outfits in my spare bedroom because, as he insists, they’re clothes, not fashion, and he intends them to last. But they are a hot ticket on eBay among die-hard vintage collectors.
Earlier this month, Issei Miyake, who built an international multi-brand fashion and perfume empire over 50 years, died of liver cancer at the age of 84. He is saddened by the number of women and men across the creative arts and industries, media, theater and academia.
Earlier this month, Issei Miyake died of liver cancer at the age of 84. Over 50 years he has built an international multi-brand fashion and fragrance empire.
Counted among them and, as can be expected, Janice Robinson, Grace Jones (in one of her most famous photographs can be found in MIAK), the Olsen twins, Katy Perry, Prue Leith, Tiny Temah, Kim Kardashian, Will Me, Suzy Monks and the potter Jennifer Lee. He loved his customers, letting them into the creative process, making them lifelong friends. ‘When I do something, it’s only half done. When people use it – for years and years – then it ends.’ The story of Steve Jobs teaming his Apple 100 turtleneck with Levi’s 501s to avoid ‘decision fatigue’ in the morning is well known. That’s when architect Richard Rogers realized he refused to stop wearing the Miak Windcoat he’d owned for more than a decade, and realized it’s worn out from too much travel and too many construction sites. Miyake immediately made the same substitution and promised more when needed.
His inner and emotional generosity is there in a story told by long-time UK press officer Pierra Berardi. In the year I was in London during Fashion Week in 1995 and I asked my brother Antonio Berardi for an extended lunch to see his first cat show. Issei had a business lunch but immediately canceled and said, “I’m coming too.” And there he was in the front row of Antonio’s show. Imagine what the world press has done! Think what this new name has done for Antonio.’
The ability to shape the future always fascinates Miyaki. In the year In 1986, when the publication was at its most powerful and profitable, the entire curatorial department and various critics and specialists moved to Tokyo for a week. At my newest, most expensive restaurant in Tokyo, I hosted a dinner party with my fashion editor Sarah Mower and (late self-selected addition) Miyake-ophile and art critic Waldmar Januszczak. He did this not to promote his own work, but to promote new Japanese fashion designers. These were the people, he had to write about us, he insisted.
Designer Issey Miyake at Paris Fashion Week in Paris in 1993. The designer introduced the world to a new wave of Japanese fashion designers
‘There was no one like him,’ remembers renowned industrial designer Professor Ron Arad, who worked with Mike on a student project at the Royal College of Art on the project that produced the Ripple chair. I have met many amazing people, but Essie was unmatched in generosity, curiosity and creativity. In the year In 1998, when he opened A-POC (a piece of cloth), a knitted tube with dotted lines for people to choose and design their own clothes, I made a chair for him and started the chair in the clothes. He was fun and always a lot of laughs working with him.’
Former Tate director and art historian Sir Nicholas Serota recalls that. Like everyone else, I was impressed by the way he stayed true to his roots in a world where popularity is so important. His humility and determination to stay close to his roots through his fascination with the material and the body in motion meant that he was creative to the end. Everything looked fresh and seemed to come effortlessly, but that’s because he made sure to give himself time to think and, importantly, laugh. He never took himself too seriously.’
He had no equal in generosity, passion and creativity.
Miyake’s approach to clothing was logical, creative and fun. It was playful in the way a dress could be one thing, then a shoulder strap, a wrist flash could do something else. He loved colour, and ‘the space between the body and the clothes’, the way they both flow seamlessly from one abstract form to another. He welcomes contributions from other artists and creators in various fields. Artists Robert Rauschenberg and Christo became friends with costume designer Anthony Powell, inventor Sir James Dyson, and photographers Lord Snowdon and Irving Penn (the latter volunteered to shoot all of Miyake’s collections in 1986, which he worked on for more than a decade).
In a book on ceramics in a London bookshop, Miyake fell in love with the work of potter Dame Lucy Ree. A return to essential form echoes the beauty of Japan. They became friends and he organized exhibitions of her work in Tokyo and Osaka, the pieces of which were displayed floating on a giant rectangular pool, emphasizing their serene stillness. Miyake used some of her multicolored stone keys on a coat in a collection in 1989, and when she died in 1995, she left the entire collection in her will.
In the creative arts and industries, the media, theater and academia, various women and men, including fashion writer Brenda Pollan, are mourning Issey Miyake’s scarf.
Miyake, who always greeted everyone with outstretched arms and a matching smile, was a great gift-giver himself. He was frustrated that there was nothing to give. Once he didn’t expect to see me and had nothing ready, he lifted the middle from his own neck and wrapped it around mine. A simple cotton scarf, but a beautiful thing. I still have it and love it. ‘I still cherish everything he gave me,’ said Ron Arad.
Miyake has repeatedly said he doesn’t want to be known as the designer who, as a seven-year-old boy, saw the atomic bomb detonation on his hometown of Hiroshima in 1945 and his health deteriorated. He is attracted to clothes, because he is always improving and therefore optimistic. Japanese clothing is fuku and fuku means good luck, happiness. And maybe I’m trying to create happiness for people. And to myself.’