Japanese Tradition in Isssey Miyake Chikako Hiramitsu

Japanese Tradition in Isssey Miyake
Chikako Hiramitsu
[email protected]
Osaka University Graduate School of Letters
Issey Miyake, a Japanese fashion designer, sets much value on bringing a contemporary interpretation of traditional
Japanese wear, the kimono, to western clothing. Stressing the decoration of the fabrics and creating clothes in harmony with
the feel of them, as well as designing clothes that resonate physically and spiritually with the wearer, these characteristic
elements of his designs are inspired by the kimono. From the point of Orientalism, however, his view of Japanese traditions
is unique to modern Japanese people who have been westernised and mimic the West. He can never be free from being
typified as a 'Japanese designer,’ so the fact that he is Japanese creates the duality of being distinguished from the West
while mimicking it. His final aim to create clothes that are universal achieved in his series of collections with pleats, can also
be seen from the point of such a concept. This study will clarify how he introduced the kimono into western clothing and his
position in the fashion industry.
Keywords: Issey Miyake, fashion design, Japan, tradition
designs in which ‘the East meets the West’ can be
Introduction 'East Meets West'
Issey Miyake entitled his first book of works ‘East
Meets West.’ The title was quoted from the poem
1. The East and the West in Miyake
‘The Ballad of East and West’ written by Rudyard
Kipling, one of the colonialists. In the poem,
Haute couture as western clothing
Kipling stated that the East doesn't meet the West.
But they do meet in the works of Miyake. The
After graduating from an art college in Japan,
modern fashion industry has spread across the
Miyake studied at Ecole de la chambre sandica in
boundaries of countries and nations, mainly in a
Paris for a year, and then worked as an assistant for
few big cities in developed countries. Issey Miyake
two years in the ateliers of Guy Laroche and
has received recognition for bringing a modern
Givenchy. From these experiences, Miyake got the
interpretation of the Japanese kimono to western
idea that haute couture typified western clothing.
clothing, in the fashion industry. This study sheds
light on the way that the kimono is interpreted and
In his mind, haute couture dresses are solid
assimilated in Miyake's works with reference to his
structural packages, symbolising overdecorative
perspective on western, and eastern or Japanese
and heavy western culture. Such western dresses
clothes. Then, his method of producing universal
stress body
Design Discourse vol.1 no.1 2005 January
shape through
skilled tailoring
Japanese Tradition in Isssey Miyake
techniques. Miyake questioned this notion of
preserved and handed down over generations.
western dresses, doubting not only the forms of the
࠘fig.2࠙ He also sometimes creates new fabrics in
clothes but also their relationship with the wearers.
co-operation with the artisans in these districts.
To Miyake, making haute couture dresses is
࠘fig.3࠙ The textile designer, Makiko Minagawa,
comparable to serving the bourgeoisie and in
has been one of his partners from the very
complete opposition to his sensibilities. Haute
beginning. She comes from a family of dyers and
couture is intended for high and middle classes,
weavers that have lived in Kyoto for several
based on the strict distinctions of sex, class,
occasion, or purpose. From the 1950s to the ‘60s,
developed or improved the variety of traditional
haute couture extended its sphere of influence
Japanese materials ranging from simple striped
fabrics to some unique materials such as Japanese
magazines or movies, but at the end of the ‘60s
paper or basyoufu; a fabric made from leaves. Jack
some signs of decline began to appear. Miyake
Larsen pointed out their Japanese characteristics in
sympathised with this change in the minds of
the techniques, such as shibori3 or nishiki4, and in
western people, on the point of general doubts over
the colours without vividness or strong contrasts,
the trickle-down system in fashion at that time. He
and their modern characteristics in using new
found western culture, as well as western clothes,
fabrics, in the technical textile finishing for lustre
to be incompatible with other clothing. His
or stretch, as well as in their actual cost of
experiences in haute couture in Paris raised within
productions.5 The designs are then completed by
him the question, ‘Why should the standard be in
letting air into the chinks between the body and the
Europe?’ and from this, he started to release his
garment. Miyake refers to this air as 'Ma.' 6 On
clothes from the western definition and began to
account of the Ma, the body shape in the garment
create his own.
can't be seen in the outer appearance. It is not until
the garment changes its expression through motion
that the inner body can be recognised. Miyake
considers Japanese culture to be rather spiritual
‘A piece of cloth’
and the physical senses restrained, characteristics
that can also be seen in Nou costumes. He regards
The Japanese kimono was the starting point of
Nou costumes as allowing the players to express
Miyake’s search for his own definition. He designs
their spirituality by wrapping their bodies in an
a garment from within where the human body
oriental way. In olden times, Japanese people
touches the fabric, as opposed to the western trend
usually adopted such attitudes, making and their
of designing from outside the body. In the
minds and bodies relax in the same way when they
beginning, he chooses a fabric and checks the way
put on kimonos. From the kimono, Miyake got the
it feels against his own body. He has said that he
idea of enhancing the decorations of the fabrics
closes his eyes and allows the fabrics to tell him
and making the garments resonate with the human
what to do with them. Then, designs can be created
that maintain the superiority of the decorations
during dyeing and weaving of the kimono which
has few varieties of forms. Miyake visits many
fabric producing districts in Japan, where fabrics
such as shijira1࠘fig.1࠙ and tsumugi2 have been
Design Discourse vol.1 no.1 2005 January
Japanese Tradition in Isssey Miyake
figure1 .Jacket, Aprondress, Skirt 1976
Cotton Awa shijira . Shijira is the Japanese traditional
fabric like sucker.
figure 2. Coat dressỞ 1976
The fabric is inspired by Tanzen, the Japanese traditional
He first became interested in Japanese dyeing and
fabric in the triple cloth with fancy check. But the light
weaving in his student days and after coming back
color are not from Tanzen.
from New York, his focus of interest was Japanese
workers, such as Tobi7, Kurumahiki8 or peasants.
This interest has prevailed right throughout his
work. According to Miyake, there are some fixed
ideas in the fashion industry that the West is more
beautiful than the East, or that fashion means
dressing up. He set out to break these taboos and
discover the beauty of Japanese people. At first, he
found beauty in the women who worked in the
country and in an old activist in the women's
movement. Not only were these women Japanese
but also they were old, so they did not fit the
fashion standard mould of beauty. They lived the
unchangeable reality of their lives through labour
or ideology.
figure 3. Bistier'Rattan Body'Ở 1982
Made of rattan and vinyl. It was made in cooperation with
a workman of the tools for the Japanese tea ceremony.
Design Discourse vol.1 no.1 2005 January
Japanese Tradition in Isssey Miyake
From Japan to the Orient
Miyake’s first theme of creation was formed under
the concept of introducing some elements of the
kimono into western clothing. This theme also
questioned the origins of clothes. In Miyake's
interpretation of clothes, the idea that the West is
opposite to Japan, the orient, or the non-West can
be seen. The theme ‘a piece of cloth’ ࠘fig.4࠙is not
in opposition to the West, but the search for
universal clothing reveals that it has some elements
of both sides. This means that every nation has its
original clothing culture from the very beginning,
or that a garment can be made from only a piece of
Starting with the kimono, he then extended his
figure 4. A piece of cloth Ở 1977 Ở
interest to other oriental cultures. He attended the
Nitting goun
‘Fashion Live Theatre’ event as a director, held in
Kobe in 1981, and suggested sending some
designers to Guatemala, Bali, India and Tibet to
The universal clothing
study the four points of the origin of clothes. The
selected designers then went to these areas,
Miyake worked as an assistant in Gefftey Beene
for a year in New York after the May revolution in
conducted there and finally designed clothes
Paris. He got the idea of universal clothing through
adapted for mass production. In another case in
the influence of American culture that he
1984, he set out to revive traditional Indian fabrics
experienced at that time. He was fascinated by the
in contemporary clothing. This work bore fruit as
power of the young in American culture that was
the fashion brand ‘ASHA’ and in two exhibitions,
wielded by the hippie movement or pop culture at
‘Les Textiles de l'Inde et les Modeles Crees par
the end of the 1960s. He looked on the T-shirts and
Issey Miyake’ at Musee des Arts Decoratifs Paris
jeans as symbols of the liberty and freedom that
and ‘HASTH - Indian hand-weaving with Miyake’
transcended all boundaries of race, sex or class,
in Tokyo. In the exhibition’s catalogue, ‘Inventive
and set his sights on clothes that everyone could
Clothes’ in 1974, he insisted that this inane
wear in their daily lives. It was also from such a
tendency to stick to Japanese tradition or cultural
perspective that he began to notice Japanese
localities had to be abandoned, and that nothing
working wear just after he returned to his native
more could be gained from making distinctions
such as Japanese, American and European.
This idea of universal clothing that has been the
basis of his work was put into practice to some
extent in ‘Pleats Please’ ࠘fig.5࠙in 1993. In this
collection of pleats, permanent pleating was
Design Discourse vol.1 no.1 2005 January
Japanese Tradition in Isssey Miyake
processed with heat after sawing, owing to
his pleats were sourced from traditional Japanese
technological innovations in chemical fibers. It
was praised for presenting the possibility of clothes
as a field of industrial design and for exploding
clothes maintain their original forms even when
2. Miyake in the fashion industry
they are washed or folded. Their very simple
designs are basically unchangeable though some
The ‘Japanese designers’
new colors or patterns are added each season. It is
not too much to say that ‘Pleats Please’ is a
Miyake has had one bone of contention since
completed version of his universal clothing.
working in Paris. It is that he is always asked to
incorporate some Japanese elements into his
designs just because he is Japanese. By the time he
presented his first collection in the 1970s, Hanae
Mori had already established her position and
Kenzo Takada had begun to be noticed in Paris.
Mori's designs were quoted from traditional
Japanese patterns and fabrics, such as the graceful
floral motives or the luxurious fabrics used for
Obis. In a sense she embodied the past Japanism,
while Miyake and Takada were accepted as the
new popular Japanesque. Certainly Miyake and
Takada had some points in common, and were put
together under the label of ‘Japanese designers.’ It
is said that their loose-fitting forms and layered
garments still have an effect on western clothing
today. 10 Early in the 1980s, when Rei Kawakubo
and Yhoji Yamamoto joined them, their first
collections gave rise to much controversy in the
figure5. Pleats Please 1996
Made of polyester jersey.
imperfection, the de-constructiveness and the
achromatic colours on their designs were regarded
There have been different pleating techniques used
as some spiritual Japanesque elements related to
in his work prior to this. In the 1970s, in the
the aesthetics of Zen. Their style was termed
‘oniyoryu’ collection, he made lengthwise irregular
‘Japan Shock’ and accepted as a deviation from
ripples on fabric, to which the traditional Japanese
proper western dress-theory or an invasion of the
technique of ‘shibori’ had been applied. In the
boundary to the west. 11 Then, Miyake was put
1980s, he made hand-processed pleats in polyester
together with them under the banner of the next
fabric and combined them with Japanese paper.
Based on such details, including the repeated
progressive and experimental elements have been
experiments he conducted for five years before
required of ‘Japanese designers’ since then. Under
‘Pleats Please’ was presented, it is supposed that
the heading of ‘Japanese designers,’ their values
Design Discourse vol.1 no.1 2005 January
Japanese Tradition in Isssey Miyake
are approved in their designs on the one hand, but
their personalities are neglected and confined
movement in European literature and painting with
within the limits of the ‘Japanese’ on the other.
some romantic exoticism, or studies about the
languages, arts, etc of oriental countries. But in
Said, Orientalism is described as ‘a style of
thought made between the Orient and the
From the point of Orientalism
Occident’ or ‘a western style of domination over
the Orient.’14 In this concept, for the Occident, the
Such a view of Japanese designers cannot be
Orient is a place completely different from it and a
understood without considering the historical
symbol of obscurity, oppositeness and distance. At
courses of the West and Japan. In western clothing
the heart of this, is the fundamental difference
history, it wasn’t until the end of the 19th century
presumed to exist between the Orient and the
that the Japanese influences appeared. Some
Occident, and the Orient is typified as a peculiar
influences of the kimono and other national
idea. The Occident views the Orient as needing to
clothing in oriental countries can be found clearly
be represented, taught, interpreted and redeemed
in the works of designers such as Paul Poret, Janne
from its deplorable position, and revived to
Paquin or Madeleine Vionnet at the start of haute
It is considered to be part of the
exoticism, called Japanism, that spread in the 19th
The biased perspective of Miyake as a ‘Japanese
century. The straight construction and the ease
designer’ can be reduced from the point of this
found in oriental native dresses were adapted to
concept of Orientalism. According to Richard
western dresses under the pressure to release
Martin and Harold Coda, Japan, as required by the
women from corsets. And the motives or
West, had been an object of exoticism symbolized
techniques used in traditional Japanese textiles
in kabuki, ukiyoe and samurai till the 1970s, and
were applied to European textiles. However, this
changed to an object that gave secular boisterous
extension of the dresses under the influence of
western culture some spiritual serenity in the latter
Japanism was only for the middle and high classes,
half of the 1990s. 15 Though they have a high
and only for a few items such as dresses or gowns.
opinion of Japanese designers, this opinion is filled
with the typical idea and the Orientalism concept
At the same time, Japanese people gradually began
that Japan serves the West. In fact, many Japanese
to dress in western clothing. Kipling, as mentioned
above, visited Japan twice at the end of the 19th
Yamamoto have presented their collections in
century when he was a journalist. In his records at
Paris and in other cities all over the world. But
that time, he asked why Japanese people wore
designers who don’t come under the banner of
western clothes that were unsuitable to their
typical Japanese designers or agree with them are
physiques instead of the kimono, he thought that
removed, and only a few are approved as designers
Japanese people would soon recognize this and
who can bring useful or novel stimuli to western
eventually stop wearing western clothes.
the West didn't meet the East in Kipling, in the
modern fashion industry the situation is such that
In Said, the structure of Orientalism is not merely
the West alone does not keep Japanese culture
the binary opposition of the West and the East. In
under its control.
this style of thought, the Orient differs from the
Design Discourse vol.1 no.1 2005 January
Japanese Tradition in Isssey Miyake
West or contradicts it, and should be taken onto the
different from itself, in addition to mimicking its
western side. Miyake set out to become a fashion
culture and introducing its values. In the modern
designer influenced by fashion magazines such as
fashion industry, Miyake has kept the binal parts of
‘American Vogue’ or ‘Harper’s Bazaar’ in his
mimicking the West and of being apart from the
boyhood. After the last war, people in Japan
West while, at the same time, being a ‘Japanese
rushed to wear western clothes with the progress of
westernization and Americanization. On the other
hand, Japanese culture embodied in the kimono
rapidly declined. Therefore, when Miyake began to
notice Japanese traditions just after he came back
to Japan, it was not a rediscovery inside him but a
new discovery from a fresh perspective. In the
At the end of the 19th century, the western mode
same way as the West, he discovered the
had become superior to most national costumes all
traditional cultures of Japan or other oriental
over the world under the government of the
countries, gave them redemption and revived them
imperialists. In practical terms, the West also lost
in contemporary fashion.
its own clothing aesthetics at the same time.
Especially, some traditional decoration techniques
He presented his collection under the title of ‘Body
of western clothes barely survived the adjustment
Works’ in which he dealt with various materials
to industrial production. Bruno du Roselle pointed
besides fabric such as iron, paper and bamboo.
out that western clothing, since World WarϨ, ‘has
Some of these works show Japanism that is
been one of the most desolate and least brilliant
different from previous works. In particular, the
modes, furthermore the least imaginative and
one named ‘Rattan Body’ looks like a samurai
creative modes.’ 16 The worldwide unification of
costume with a pleated skirt. Including this in a
the clothing mode has created the various desires
and necessities for the self-expression of the
Japanesque impressions than all the other works of
wearers. In the recent fashion industry, the
Miyake put together. In those days, he tried to
products, the capital and the talent have been
build up his position by playing voluntarily his
reorganized on a world scale, and the new markets
‘Japanese’ role, while doubting the prejudice of the
are eagerly being cultivated in response to
‘Japanese designers.’ His works on oriental
international economies. The creativity of the
countries except Japan can be explained by such
designers cannot lead the uniformed mode in one
style in Orientalism. Western Orientalism was
direction by itself. Although depending on the
fully imported to Japan and still exists in the
individual creations of the designers is originally a
present day. For all the refutations and criticisms
very western way, special to haute couture, it is
of Orientalism, it is supposed that it has infiltrated
regarded as a dressmaking laboratory and just
throughout most Japanese people and is commonly
manages to survive with the selling of licensed
held as a style of thought. Miyake mimicked the
West in trying to create universal clothing. Above
this, the contradiction that Miyake has taken can be
Miyake said that if there were something left for
restored to its original structure consisting of the
the designer to do as a creator, it would be to
rule and the ruled, the West and the East. The West
incorporate poesy, and that the creators of the next
as the rule requires the East to continue to be
generation had to have sufficient imagination to
Design Discourse vol.1 no.1 2005 January
Japanese Tradition in Isssey Miyake
control the technology. When Miyake aimed at
universal clothing such as T-shirts and jeans, he
aimed to present a little imagination to individuals
of the masses, while recognizing the fact that the
mode is rather unified had taken root. It is
supposed that he has been trying to confront, not
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Japanese hand-woven fabric made from yarns of
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