Issey Miyake doesn’t like talking about his past as a survivor of a catastrophic event. He simply doesn’t want to be defined by this experience. Even so, the tragedy’s influence in his life’s work is undeniable. More than the physical condition he acquired from the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima, there was a sense of wanting to create things that would bring joy.
“I have tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to put them behind me, preferring to think of things that can be created, not destroyed, and that bring beauty and joy. I gravitated toward the field of clothing design, partly because it is a creative format that is modern and optimistic,” he wrote in an opinion piece for The New York Times in 2009. And create beautiful things he did.
An icon’s inspiration
A bridge that passes through the heart of the city leading to the Peace Memorial Park on its south end was built seven years after the bombing of Hiroshima. The look of the bridge itself isn’t something out of the ordinary, it’s the railings that will catch your eye. The perfect adjectives to describe the abstract art quality of these railings are hard to find. It’s designed by Isamu Noguchi, a Japanese-American sculptor who voluntarily entered an internment camp during the second world war. He wanted Hiroshima to be a place “living strongly for the future”. Perhaps, it’s why his designs for the city were so futuristic.
This quality was what caught the fancy of a high schooler Issey Miyake, who, upon passing this beautiful bridge countless times on his way to class, would be inspired to choose design — speciality not yet decided — as his life’s calling.
Fashion design came into the picture a little later. Intrigued by his sister’s Vogue magazines, Issey Miyake became enamoured with the art of fashion — an interest that is considered atypical in mid-20th century Japan and a field that at the time was internationally dominated by European names such as Coco Chanel and Christian Dior.
And so, with limited opportunities for studying fashion design in the country, young Issey Miyake opted to learn graphic design instead at Tama Art University in Tokyo. He was graduating around the time when Japanese citizens were finally permitted to travel abroad for pleasure.
Armed with newfound design knowledge, some savings, and freedom to move, 27-year-old Issey Miyake went to Paris and enrolled in Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne to study traditional couture. In the city of love, Issey Miyake became an apprentice to Guy Laroche and Hubert de Givenchy, becoming involved in helping to create classic, sophisticated designs that are a far cry from the “Flying Saucer” dress he would become known for.
It was also during this time when he witnessed the 1968 Paris riots against capitalism and consumerism with protesters demanding for better working conditions. This politically significant event is said to have inspired Issey Miyake to make clothes for “a wider range of people” of many shapes and sizes.
He then left the world of couture for New York to work on ready-to-wear pieces under Geoffrey Beene, an American designer known for creating uncomplicated and comfortable yet dressy womenswear. The sketches Issey Miyake did for Geoffrey Beene during this time have now been set up for auction.