Fashion, History & Now

A look at Issey Miyake’s legacy

From Sony to Paris and beyond.

words by: Sahar Khraibani
Aug 18, 2022

Earlier this month, on August 5, the fashion world lost a giant who was known for cutting-edge fashion in the 1980s and for putting Japan on the world fashion map. Issey Miyake, who died at the age of 84 from liver cancer, was the first-ever Japanese designer to show in Paris and was famous for his strong pleats, dresses, and trousers that allowed for free movement, and eccentric origami-like designs.


Miyake was responsible for designing the uniform for workers at various companies, including the famous Japanese electronics company Sony. Soon, his designs took over and appeared everywhere.


During the beginning of his career, his assertion that clothing was a form of art and design was regarded as avant-garde, and he worked with photographers and architects, which was not common at the time of those collaborations. His clothes and creations made it into the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York as well as the 1982 Artforum cover, which was unusual (and also unheard of) for a fashion designer at the time.


miyake moma

Museum of Modern Art


Miyake created a global brand that went along with Japan’s efforts to position itself as an international destination for all things art and culture, and that included fashion. His work was celebrated for bridging this international gap, and he paved the way for other notable fashion designers such as Rei Kawakubo (CDG) and Yohji Yamamoto (Y-3).


In 1988, Miyake began experimenting with micro-pleating, a design that he later became famous for. This form stems from his belief and philosophy that clothes should offer freedom to those who wear them, and freedom involved flexibility and the ability to freely move about.


His most recognizable looks came from his 1994 “Pleats Please” line, which had accordion like pleats and was made of light polyester. The line offered a lack of bodily constraints and any form of inhibition. The clothes had no zippers or buttons, they were loose and could easily slip onto the body.

pleats please

Lionel Cironneau/AP


He released L’eau d’Issey, a floral fragrance with a woodsy springtime scent, in 1992. Jaques Cavallier created the fragrance, and Mr. Miyake conceived the design of the bottle, which is a slim, minimalist inverted glass cone embellished with an orb. One night in Paris, Miyake saw the moon rising over the Eiffel Tower, and that served as his inspiration for the perfume bottle.


Photo via Issey Miyake


Throughout his life, he was known for his dedication and passion for his designs, and he was interested in people and in working with the human form. He received Japan’s highest honor for anyone in the arts, the Order of Culture, in 2010. His legacy will live on for years to come, and inspire a new generation of fashion designers who will work with the human body rather than against it.


In other related news, the rise of Crocs to high fashion and fashion brands disapprove of Roe v. Wade’s overturning.


Photo via Mark C O’Flaherty