Issey Miyake

With overtones of Picasso’s Cubist-inspired costumes for the 1917 ballet Parade and undertones of Rebecca Horn’s self-playing musical instruments, some twenty-five of Issey Miyake’s designer fashions leaped about in a mechanized ballet called Jumping, which served to welcome the public to “Issey Miyake Making Things,” the exhibition he conceived for the Fondation Cartier. For those who may not have grasped the English-language title, the dresses, coats, and other outfits bouncing down from the ceiling and up from the floor doubtless conveyed the iconoclastic spirit of the undertaking (especially in France, where fashion is sacred, and designers, like God, are referred to as “creators”). But, as in all of Miyake’s work, this choreographic installation was not simply beautiful, ingenious, and intriguing; it was functional as well: Transforming the glass facade of the Fondation Cartier into a vast shop window, it provided passersby and visitors alike with a veritable sampler of the pleating, twisting, wrinkling, and other techniques he has explored over the past decade.

“Making Things” was neither a retrospective nor a fashion show but a kind of guided tour through the hows and whys of Miyake’s art, mainly in the form of a metaphorical “Laboratory” that filled the venue’s underground exhibition space. Here, step-by-step illustrations of the “structural principles” governing Miyake’s recent collections served to reveal the constant interplay of form and function, the passage from ideas and ideals to the materials and techniques capable of realizing them. Two versions of tubular knitwear, for example, Just Before (spring/summer 1999 collection) and A-POC (A piece of cloth; spring/summer 1999), have been mass-produced in giant rolls, which not only avoids waste on the manufacturing end but allows each buyer to “participate” in elaborating the final garment by cutting it out as she sees fit. Innovative shrinking techniques applied to ramie linen have yielded stylishly wrinkled garments like Dunes and Tubed Veil (both spring/summer 1998), while an entire room devoted to the Starburst series (autumn/winter 1998) pursued the notion of recycling with a process for giving a new life to old clothing via a second skin of metallic paper.

From the dancerless dance of Jumping to the latter-day alchemy of Starburst, the theme of transformation was omnipresent in “Making Things”—the transformation of fabrics into clothing, to be sure, but also that of the technical processes involved. The knitwear of Just Before and A-POC, for example, is mass-produced on a machine designed to manufacture panty hose, while the shrinking technique, like those of pleating and twisting, is applied after the garments have been assembled rather than before (as in traditional fabrication) so as to give them “a life of their own.” And, as Miyake suggested with his painless pedagogy, habits too might be transformed through a kind of sartorial ecology: avoiding waste, recycling old clothes, individuals participating in mass production.

More intangible but no less present throughout “Making Things” was the cultural transformation that informs the work of an entire generation of Japanese designers—the children of Hiroshima and hi tech who, in Miyake’s words, “dreamed between two worlds.” His clothing, like the fabrics designed by his career-long collaborator Makiko Minagawa or the furniture of his late colleague and friend Shiro Kuramata (responsible for the remarkable interior designs of nearly a dozen Miyake boutiques around the world), attest to a creative metamorphosis of traditional forms and methods through the use of modern techniques and materials. In this respect—and this is probably the capital lesson of the exhibition, if not Miyake’s work in general—“making things” is a constant process of remaking, in the most innovative sense of the term.

Miriam Rosen