Q+A – Issey Miyake

Those who think fashion is for the young might want to reconsider. In the twilight of his career, Japanese fashion designer Issey Miyake, age 63, is poised to turn the fashion world on its collective head with an innovative new concept and a bold New York flagship.

Miyake’s passion of the moment, A-POC refers, literally, to A Single Piece of Cloth. The idea is that a single piece of material can be used to create a number of clothing items-dresses, skirts, shirts, hats, purses, gloves, socks, wallets-with little material waste. Although simplistic in theory, the sophisticated process is dependent on cutting-edge advances in science and technology.

Miyake worked with textile engineer Dai Fujiwara and other design talents at the Miyake Design Studio in Tokyo to develop this new process of making clothes-encompassing everything from the generation of raw materials and the machines used to the delivery system and the fitting of the wearer. Computer-programmed machines allow patterns to be worked into the textiles, and a sophisticated system of links and holes between the two sides of the clothing “tube” allows the user to cut out seamless clothing in different variations. Because A-POC isn’t limited by the properties of fabric, pattern and sewing technique, what emerges is a seamless continuum akin to the human form.

Miyake continues to differentiate himself from other clothing designers by seeking ways to interpret clothing as something other than haute couture. Although the idea took seed in the 1970s, A-POC has come to fruition in the 21st century as the perfect blend of human touch and machine-born technology. Moreover, the designer’s focus on creating thoughtful, meaningful clothing is a breath of fresh air in the oft-vapid fashion industry.

A-POC is a revolutionary idea: using complex technology to simplify fashion. Explain this process and its importance to you, both as a person and as a designer.

A-POC is an innovative new concept that I hope will revolutionize the process of clothes-making. Imagine being able to put a thread into a machine, and through this new technology, clothing comes out in a roll on the opposite end. A-POC is my newest touchstone through which I can translate and convey my passion for making clothes.

Your first collection in 1964 was titled “A Poem of Cloth & Stone.” In the ’70s, you presented “A Piece of Cloth.” Now, you’ve unveiled A-POC. You’re obviously fascinated with simplicity of materials. Can you explain the root of that fascination and how that has evolved throughout your career?

I’ve always wanted to create something universal in clothing design: simple clothing for everyday life, like T-shirts and jeans. I started, in the ’70s, with the idea of clothing made from a piece of cloth.

In 1993, we came up with Pleats Please. The garment-pleating technique allows us to create many different forms and textures, all in one process. But we were looking for more, for another breakthrough in the ways of making things. We wanted to dramatically change the process. Today, A-POC respects that there’s a fine balance between the value of the human touch and the abilities of technology to allow us to create more, with less waste. Finding that balance is where the joy of making clothes lies.

What spawned the idea for A-POC early in your career, and do you feel it has only now come to fruition, or is it merely a work in progress?

Traditional clothing from many cultures and countries is based upon one piece of cloth. I have always found that inspiring. We have no idea where A-POC will take us, but what we do know is that it never stands still. It combines new technology and hand-work and is an area open to experimentation. We’re only limited by our own imaginations and the will to try.

A-POC uses modern technology, but with a definitive nod toward environmentalism. How do you reconcile these two apparently disparate entities? Do you think technology is also organic? Is A-POC actually the perfect marriage between technology and nature?

A-POC is organic in two senses. First of all, it’s a process: A piece of string goes into a machine that extrudes form, function and texture, all at once. This process respects and addresses the need to eliminate so much wasted fabric during production, and it also eliminates the usual needs for cutting and sewing.

What’s your ultimate hope with A-POC? Do you see it shaping fashion design in the 21st century? Will it continue to evolve? If so, how?

A-POC is beyond trends, and will only continue to evolve, change and move forward and push the limits of process. I hope it changes the way we look at how we make things. A-POC is the root of my creations and is a very basic idea that goes beyond trends or commerce.

Is the world ready for A-POC?

I think the world has never been more ready. All you need is an open mind and a desire for new solutions.

In the last few years, you’ve turned over the design of your men’s and women’s collections to Takizawa Naoki. Is this move allowing you to embark on a new venture, perhaps away from fashion? Or is it simply time to let someone new take the label into the future?

I turned over the design of the men’s collections to him in 1994, and the women’s in 1999. It’s mostly because I wanted to get away from the demands of the collection schedules and have the freedom to return to my first loves: research and designing clothing with no restrictions. I’m designing, as well as continuing to oversee, all the lines made by members of the Miyake Design Studio and Issey Miyake Inc. A-POC is my newest project with my associate, Dai Fujiwara.

You’ve just opened a 15,000-square-foot store in New York. What’s your vision for this store?

The purpose of the collaboration between Frank Gehry and myself was to create a space that’s free, malleable and can change as it needs to. I want to create a forum for the presentation and discovery of new talents. The first, which were introduced at the opening (last November), were architect Gordon Kipping, clothing designer Takizawa Naoki, artist Alejandro Gehry and watchmaker Yamanaka Yoshiharu. We’re hoping to be able to create an environment from which many more young talents will emerge in the future. I feel that a place where these new talents and works can be viewed is also where you’ll get a glimpse of the energy that will fully propel us into the 21st century.

How do you think your attitude about fashion has changed from the 1960s until the present?

I believe in change. My work is “work in progress;” I hope that I am, too.

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