Tokyo — Issey Miyake, who built one of Japan’s biggest fashion brands and was known for his boldly sculpted pleated garments as well as former Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ black turtlenecks, has died. He was 84.
Miyake died on August 5 of liver cancer, the Miyake Design Office said on Tuesday.
Miyake defined an era in Japan’s modern history, reaching stardom in the 1970s among a generation of designers and artists who achieved global fame by defining a Japanese vision that was unique from the West.
Miyake’s origami-like folds transformed usually rough polyester into elegant. He also used computer technology in weaving to make clothes. His earthy clothes were meant to celebrate the human body regardless of race, build, size or age.
Miyake loathed even being called a fashion designer, choosing not to identify with what he saw as frivolous, trendsetting and conspicuous consumption.
Again and again, Miyake returned to his basic concept of starting with a single piece of cloth – whether draped, folded, cut or wrapped.
Over the years, he drew inspiration from a variety of cultures and societal motifs, as well as everyday objects – plastic, rattan, “washi” paper, jute, horsehair, foil, yarn, batik, indigo dyes and wires.
Sometimes he conjured images of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, or collaborated with the Japanese painter Tadanori Yokoo in images of monkeys and foliage in vivid, psychedelic hues.
He also collaborated with furniture and interior designer Shiro Kuramata, photographer Irving Penn, choreographer and director Maurice Bejart, ceramic maker Lucie Rie and Ballet Frankfurt.
In 1992, Miyake was commissioned to design the official Olympic uniform for Lithuania, which had just gained independence from the Soviet Union.
Born in Hiroshima in 1938, Miyake was a star as soon as he hit the European runways. His brown top, which combined the Japanese sewn fabric “sashiko” with raw silk knit, was splashed on the cover of the September issue of Elle magazine.
Miyake was also a pioneer in gender roles, asking feminist Fusae Ichikawa in the 1970s – when she was in her 80s – to be his model, sending the message that garments must be comfortable and express the natural beauty of real people.
Although he made clothes that went beyond the mundane, and seemed to reach for the spiritual, he made a point of never being pretentious, always approving of the T-shirt-and-jeans look.
“Designing is like a living organism in that it pursues what matters to its well-being and continuity,” Miyake once wrote in his book.
His office confirmed that a private funeral had already been held and that other ceremonies will not be held in accordance with Miyake’s wishes. Miyake kept his family life private, and survivors are not known.