I had never held a piece by Issey Miyake before the tail end of a trip back home to Japan in 2019, when I wandered into the Pleats Please boutique in the Narita International Airport before my flight.
Candy-colored clothes hung like streaks of paint against the perfectly white laminated walls. Store attendees patiently strolled about as travelers with luggage fumbled with scarves, jostled hangers, and cocked their heads sideways, assessing how to wear the seemingly shapeless garments.
The two-dimensional flatness of the garments is in line with how Miyake conceived of clothing, art, and technology. The trailblazing designer from Hiroshima died on August 5th, at the age of 84, and left behind a body of work known for being as innovative as it was wearable — with the person in the clothing being central to the design.
“I am most interested in people and the human form,” Miyake told The New York Times in 2014. “Clothing is the closest thing to all humans.”
Among the tech crowd, Miyake is perhaps remembered most for designing the iconic black mock necks worn religiously by Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. As the story goes, Jobs was visiting the Sony headquarters in the 1980s and was struck by the matching work jackets worn by every employee and designed by Miyake. Jobs’ attempts to pitch a uniform to Apple employees flopped, according to his biography. But he kept his own consistent outfit, with Miyake supplying hundreds of identical shirts.
Pleats Please, one of the designer’s many labels, is instantly recognizable for the cutting-edge techniques used in the creation and design process. Miyake and his team had developed an innovative method of treating fabric in the ‘80s that created permanent rows of micro pleats that withstand folding, washing machines, and being jammed into suitcases (trust me).
I must have touched every single garment in the store while I decided what I would walk away with. In trying on a piece, I immediately understood what Miyake meant when he spoke about the space between the wearer’s body and the garment — how the former creates the latter. The tight walls of pleats expand to accommodate the unique body of the wearer, like water filling up a clear glass. Straight legs of trousers and flat lines on jackets fill with buoyancy and movement — the clothes, above all, are meant to reflect life.
At the shop in the airport, I finally settled on a pair of emerald green three-quarter length trousers with invisible pockets and an elasticized waistband. At $205, they felt impossibly expensive to me, but I bought them anyway.
The pants have gone with me wherever I find myself: to the beach, to the grocery store, on dates and reporting trips. They are timeless, seasonless, and occasionless, which makes them, in essence, perfect for anything. Miyake’s first name, Issey, translates literally to “one life” — fitting for the singularity of his talent but also poetic in its ode to the people he created for.