Issey Miyake, the grandfather of modern Japanese fashion, is universally revered for his application of a sculptural slant to clothing design. Although cutting-edge construction is perhaps his most recognizable design characteristic, Miyake deserves equal recognition for his ideological contributions to haute couture, helping to democratize the hyper-exclusive space.
Miyake commented on the barriers he and Rei Kawakubo of Comme Des Garçons faced in their push towards the modernization of global fashion in an 1983 interview with the New York Times: “In Europe, Italian and Paris fashion belongs to the rich. In Japan, fashion is for the people on the street.”
For the label’s A/W 1996 collection, menswear director Naoki Takizawa applied everyday functionality to military-inspired garments, whose utilitarian details and metallic palettes have provided a constant reference point for modern streetwear.
Although the tactical gear, at face value, posed a drastic deviation from the Cubist pleated dresses that earned Miyake a seat at the table, his reconsideration of flatcaps, winter coats, and cargos emphasized his unfailing willingness to draw upon everyday ingenuity.
Philosophically ahead of his time, Miyake recognized and valued the consumer’s role in defining the use or meaning of creative works. He believed that art, clothing included, was ‘dignified’ only once it was ‘integrated into our lives.’
“In the past,” Miyake further explains, “art was admired and revered from afar. Today, there is more of an interactive relationship between the art and the person who admires it.”
This understanding of the artist-consumer interaction predated the advent of online forums or social media, but would soon become the cultural norm—closer to the democracy of ideas that Miyake forwarded throughout his journey to the pinnacle of high fashion.
This marriage of high and low explains his sustained pop-culture relevance, decades removed from Miyake’s arrival as a costumier.
The appreciation for the Hiroshima-born designer spans across subcultures and generations, a testament to the technological and cultural ground he broke during his fifty-year career in the arts.