It’s a near-impossible feat to talk about the work of Issey Miyake without using the word architectural. The celebrated Japanese fashion designer, who died August 5 at the age of 84, practically sculpted fabric, creating billowing, origami-like silhouettes that embodied the experimental much as they evoked ease.
Since the debut of his eponymous collection in New York City in 1971, Miyake’s creations—creased with his signature magic pleats or crinkled like sheets of tissue paper—became a uniform for creative minds across the globe, including—famously—Steve Jobs, who admitted to having commissioned some 100 of the designer’s turtlenecks.
But Miyake had a particularly special place in the hearts and wardrobes of designers and architects, his accordioned, human-centric creations becoming as ubiquitous as Le Corbusier–style glasses or head-to-toe black in design offices everywhere. And the love was mutual. One of Miyake’s earliest inspirations, as a teenager in Hiroshima, was a pair of sculptural handrails Isamu Noguchi created for two bridges in the city. The designer would go on to work with many architects on the designs of his boutiques, even helping to launch the careers of budding starchitects like David Chipperfield.
“He was a force, and an important force,” says Frank Gehry, who teamed up with architect Gordon Kipping to design Miyake’s TriBeCa flagship in 2001. “His clothing was inspirational, and I think it did have an impact on architects because it showed a freedom.”
In that spirit, eight members of the design community reflect on the intrepid legacy Miyake leaves behind.
Toshiko Mori, Architect
“Issey Miyake was a visionary design mind, and he always had big ideas behind his collections, exhibitions, and design debates he promoted through his 21_21 Design Sight. As a fashion designer he revolutionized how fabrics are made, connecting traditional techniques and digital productions with the impact on ecology in mind. He invented new ways of dressing, creating more freedom in comfort, function, and identity. When I wear his clothes, I feel confident and courageous.
“Beyond fashion, he was highly influential in industrial and interior design and architecture. He considered a fashion ‘trend’ a force that can impact society to make a change. We will miss him tremendously.”
Frank Gehry, Architect
“He and I became very close friends. Over the years, he would come to visit us. I did a little store for him in New York, which was like a sketch. It was really the way he liked to work. We just did a sketch and built it like it was a model…there was no pushback or anything. We just did it.
“I met him way before [we did the New York store]; I think I always knew him. When I did the New York store, I did it with his people [and architect Gordon Kipping]. It just happened at the time of 9/11, so Issey was there. And we were supposed to have dinner. When it happened, he holed himself up in the hotel. We never saw him because he had his own experience with the bomb in Hiroshima and had a leg injury from that.
“He was very architectural. His fashions were architectural. I know it inspired me. [Issey’s team] always asked me to come into the store if I needed new clothes. I liked the jackets and shirts. And I do wear those sometimes. When I was starting out at UCLA, I played in the Gagaku orchestra. So I became involved with the Imperial court musicians and I studied all of that. So I really saw what he was clueing into—I saw the origins of his ideas. I was always moved by the way he took [inspiration from] Gagaku costumes…he used a filament material. I just loved it. He was a force, and an important force. His clothing was inspirational. And I think it did have an impact on architects because it showed kind of a freedom. Just a force, the guy was. He was in my mind a lot.”
Shigeru Ban, Architect
“I know him very intimately. I wear his clothes. I had been influenced by him as a creator and a human being. He had not designed just forms but developed materials and technologies, as had I.”
Jasper Morrison, Designer
"I met Issey Miyake two or three times while I was living in Tokyo. There are very few people who impressed me as much as he did, both as person and as a creative. I admired him greatly for how consistent and conceptually appealing his work was and the fact that he commissioned the photographer Irving Penn to shoot each of his collections shows remarkable vision. Meeting him was on each occasion to feel you were in the presence of a modest and charming genius. The last time we met was at the opening of his retrospective at the National Art Centre Tokyo and he was wearing the Legion d’Honneur, which had just been awarded to him by the French Ambassador. Looking tired but incredibly elegant, and while I assumed he’d had enough of people pestering him, he called me over to have a talk, waving aside compliments on the exhibition which was spectacularly beautiful, to talk about design for everyday life."
Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator, the Museum of Modern Art
“Issey Miyake lavished his talent not on the individual garment, but rather on the design of the technical and aesthetic system from which that garment—and many others—could flow. He loved inventing new, groundbreaking materials, processes, and production systems, and to perfect them and evolve them through the years. Sounds familiar? I guess that is why Steve Jobs was so loyal to him. He found his match.”
Zandra Rhodes, Fashion Designer
"[Issey] was a fabulous friend and I would say we had a mutual admiration of each other. In Japan on my first visit in 1971 he instigated a show of my work in Seibu. In Paris he organized an interview with Arnault—the then owner of Dior—as he thought he might back my work! He was generous over and beyond to his friends. He had that wonderful understanding of his own culture and generously introduced me to traditional Japan. The amazing flowers he always sent me I have drawn as permanent memories in my sketchbooks and conceptualized them as one of my oldest and most treasured prints, Field of Lilies. When he received his honorary doctorate from the RCA I hosted a dinner for him in my house with Suzy Menkes...His lasting impact [on the world of design] is his amazing use and experimentation with pleating. Taking it to realms never before imagined - brilliant, new, yet practical."
Rafael de Cárdenas, Designer
“I’m camping in Nambia right now and I have brought shorts and T-shirts, mainly, except for an Issey hoody, trouser, and a light jacket. All pleats. It packs easily and I feel dressed up in no time but still super relaxed. This is hardly the best that can be said for a true genius who worked in apparel reinventing how we dress but not necessarily chasing the fashionable. I’ve owned the pieces I have with me for well over 10 years and expect to wear them forever and always feel as special as I do in them. Also the Grace Jones Grammy look with Rick James has inspired half of my life.”
Lauren Ashley Allan, Interior Architect
“When I was a young architect in graduate school, I always felt Miyake gave space to allow for a designer's uniform. He made clothing that was guided by the principle of design, to his own monozukuri or his way of making things, rather than following a trend. He was a pioneer and visionary, an artist and creative who shifted our perspective. Timeless...When I wear his pieces, I feel transformed because his clothes have the versatility of being a go-to basic, yet refusing to blend in.
“Art, interiors, graphics, fashion, architecture and design—we are all connected. At the core as a designer, we make and create—curious to push the boundaries of great design...I absolutely love his quote, 'We yearn for the beautiful, the unknown, and the mysterious.' He was a designer’s designer and will live on through celebration of the legacy he created.”
Ekin Varon, Designer
“As a Turkish designer, my first introduction to Issey Miyake was when I saw his Turkey-inspired Spring-Summer 2010 collection. Seeing elements, motifs of my own culture merge with the Japanese style has encouraged me to push my boundaries. I have always admired how Miyake designed and executed a functional garment to almost look like a sculpture piece attached to the human body. Throughout my work, Miyake has inspired me to create furniture designs that have a sculptural aesthetic like his work, and still be structurally very strong.
“It has been so fascinating to me how he managed to add such dimensions to pieces of fabric and transform them into very structured, elegant, functional pieces of art. In order to achieve this he did not limit himself to the existing methods and technologies but he always sought for new technologies and invented his own construction process. He was not just a designer but was an inventor and he will extremely be missed among all artists and designers as a brilliant innovator.”
Responses have been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
Anna Fixsen, Deputy Digital Editor at ELLE DECOR, focuses on how to share the best of the design world through in-depth reportage and online storytelling. Prior to joining the staff, she has held positions at Architectural Digest, Metropolis, and Architectural Record magazines. elledecor.com
Rachel Silva, the Assistant Digital Editor at ELLE DECOR, covers design, architecture, trends, and anything to do with haute couture. She has previously written for Time, The Wall Street Journal, and Citywire.