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Issey Miyake Designer Talks Technology, Sustainability And Fashion's Overwhelming Amount of Cycles

Pleats Please, Bao Bao and sculptural, avant-garde textures are all signatures of the Japanese luxury label Issey Miyake. For this holiday season, Issey Miyake, helmed by creative director Yoshiyuki Miyamae, is releasing a new range of accessories titled “Record.” Yoshiyuki asked Issey Miyake employees in Tokyo, Paris, London and New York to submit photographs of everyday scenes. Yoshiyuki selected four, and working with Sony Computer Science Laboratories to conceive of a new technology that involves a color extraction process called “Omoiiro.” The color palettes of the four lines all come from the photographs. Consumers are also invited to participate, by visiting a special website where they can reflect on their memories of the cities, thanks to original music layered with everyday sounds from each locale. I met with Yoshiyuki on his first trip to New York to discuss Issey Miyake, the Record collection and the exorbitant amount of fashion cycles in each calendar year.

Working at Issey Miyake is so much about innovation. Were you always interested in technology and innovation even when you were at Bunka (fashion college)?

Since I was young I was very interested in art, making things or manufacturing, that sort of thing, maybe more so than fashion, it would be the art side. I was always interested in making pictures and making things, and both my parents are actually in art fields.

What do they do?

Accessories from Issey Miyake's New York Record Holiday Collection. (Issey Miyake)

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They make things that are sort of alternative; they make things that are actually what it is. Nobody understands it, very strange-formed things. I was really strongly influenced by them. My parents really had an affect on me. When I was little, my parents wouldn’t buy toys for me. I would actually make whatever I wanted to play with, and when I was in high school, I actually began to make my own clothing instead of buying it, and my friends would be happy with what I made for them and say, ‘oh, that’s interesting,’ so I had that from a young age, wanting to create myself, so in terms of wanting to enter the fashion world, I did have that desire, but it wasn’t really typical trend fashion. I was looking at materials, and I when I saw Issey Miyake’s work, I was pretty shocked, and it was something that really appealed to me.

How old were you when you discovered his work?

Sixteen.

When you arrived, the label is known for so many innovations, like Pleats Please, the Bao Bao bag, and then you started to come up with your own, like A-POC, where a garment is made from a single thread, and then the 3-D Steam Stretch. Where do these ideas come from?

The thing I actually learned the most from Mr. Miyake, was learning to actually get out on the factory, actually get out and see the actual place where things are being made, not just sit at your desk and design something because you’re not going to get anything interesting that way. He really encouraged me to get out and interact with people working in the factory and see how things are being made, and that understanding was the first step.

The newest innovation, Omoiiro – how did you come up with that idea, and how did you decide that Sony Labs was the best place to collaborate with on this new technology?

The reason I started the collaboration with Sony Labs was that we were actually thinking of the value of things. In the world, we’re always looking for new things, things are always changing, and so it really comes into question of what has value and what doesn’t have value, and it’s hard to make that judgment in these times. You can look at this lab and ask and say is it $1? Is it $100? In terms of making the judgment of why something has value. Is it because of the brand? So again we wanted to rethink the value of things. Talking with Alex, looking at something like this, so the custom editions might be the blue color, but what we want to look at is the story behind what makes it that color and express that. I’m just going to show you an example. We wanted to look at everyday items, not things that are beautiful per se, but from coffee, so again it’s looking at everyday items, things that we encounter in our everyday lives, on different social networking sites, people will take pictures of what they’re eating, and what they’re doing, and people will like that, and that’s the world we live in. So for design, it’s not something special. Ideas come from all around us. Even for myself, I’m in New York this time, I’m meeting lots of different people, and making those collections, and that will actually have a influence on my designs, and so I was thinking I could do something like that with Alexi. For example, this was just a fruit and vegetable stand, so we would look at the existing colors and calculating the ratio, and then we would convert it to textiles.

For the holiday collection, why did you choose to center it around photographs of cities instead of an everyday image or holiday images?

So for our staff, we have in New York, London, Paris and Tokyo, and it’s the holidays, so I wanted to do something where everyone could participate, so I asked if we want to make something based on that, so I asked the staff in all the different locations to send pictures, and based on what we chose we would make bags of different items, so it’s us participating, and also the customers as well would be participating. So to give you an example, let’s say we made different bags in New York or London, let’s say someone in Japan is going on their honeymoon to one of these locations, it would be a starter for a conversation, and it would also be a way to communicate via these items, so for the customers it would be a way to talk to the store who is selling a bag. It’s about the idea of value of objects to communication. That was the ideal that I was going for.

Yeah, it’s interesting, because each of the accessories comes from a photograph of a city, so each has its own narrative, but it’s not so obvious. Will you use this technology again?

Actually in Japan, it wasn’t based on cities, it was about the everyday. We actually use this for a monotone bag. So with Alexi were actually extracting the colors from the different photos and it’s called Omoiiro (sp?) It’s like a memory.

Will you do custom orders where people could submit their own photographs and create an accessory?

At the current point it’s difficult, but we think at some point in the future we’d be able to produce a bag based on someone’s custom picture, but we don’t have the systems in place at the moment in terms of the time that it would take to do that, but also to deliver the item, but we’ve heard a lot about that.

You work so much with technology. Are you thinking of doing any projects with any Silicon Valley-based companies?

Not here in the States. The collaboration with Sony just happened to take place, but it’s not that I want. My desire is to do the technology itself. I think for me the balance is difficult sometimes, again it’s not that everything is focused on the technology. It’s more about what materials I want to use, things like that, and then in terms of the technology, we use some very old traditional techniques as well as.

What about sustainability practices?

We place a lot of value on sustainability and the reason being is that 1721 in terms of the technology, there’s a lot of places in Japan that have technology and techniques similar to Italy, but those places are going out of fashion. Fast fashion is the trend and people are making things as cheaply as possible in places like Asia and eastern Europe, where the economy is not as developed and they can make things cheaper. That’s the market that exists in the world today. So for us, we want to find places that have good technology. There’s places that have the factories are declining because they cost a lot of money. So for us it’s actually a big issue in terms of making quality products. So in Europe, for brands like Louis Vuitton and Hermes, they actually have their own factories, which is something that we don’t have. They’re able to maintain their own quality that way because they have their own craftsmen, so for us, it’s actually how do we main quality if we don’t have those resources? So our idea is to actually partner with factories, not just for a season, or for a certain material, but over the long term, let’s say for the next five years, next ten years to work together towards developing what the next thing is going to be, and through that, we’re able to create the sustainability. But again, you have to think about the business aspect as well. We don’t have our own factories, so we have to rely on factories, and to build that good relationship, and then just going back to Europe, they do have their own designers, their own factories, so for something like Hermes and their bags in the next decade or two decades, they’re going to be a strong brand because they have that. For us, every time we can’t change to a new factory, we have to maintain quality control, and that can be difficult, so we have to think of a new way to be able to do that.

What about the pleats? For a pleat to sustain on a garment it has to be polyester? Are you creating your garments with the idea that they’ll last for a long time?

We have designed it with that quality in mind. We test it many times so that it lasts for the next decade, or even further.

So what are the biggest challenges of maintaining the brand’s legacy while also fusing it with your own vision?

I think any designer is facing the same issue, but for us at Issey Miyake, it’s an issue of what to maintain and protect, and what needs to change with the times, what needs to be involved, but again, it’s a hard issue. For Pleats that’s something I’d like to go forward. We have the Pleats Please brand, and that’s something that’s a universal form or shape, but again, within Issey Miyake, we of course want to maintain that, but also have a new vision for Pleats. So again we have the Steam Stretch, and for this season the Big Stretch, and that’s actually what came out of that. If you look at it, it looks like something that’s just Pleats, but it’s actually something by changing the process we were able to create, again by suiting the process for the current times. So again, we’re maintaining or protecting the Pleats, but also trying something new.

What about the challenge of the numerous fashion cycles in a calendar year? What’s your opinion on that?

I think it’s actually too much to have four collections a year, but at the same time you have to consider that women always want to wear something new. There’s both of those factors, but as a result, everything has come very fast. I like the idea of continuing one idea over a longer span of time, so maybe changing the color or the shape, but keeping the same idea, and that way we can also maintain sustainability, but time is also tight, and it’s also hard to maintain in that environment.

Should the fashion industry come up with a solution for this? So many designers are complaining being overwhelmed by the amount of seasons that they have to create collections for. There’s no time to relax.

It’s been a source of stress for a while, so now people within the industry have begun complaining, it’s actually been helpful for us, but I think a larger, systematic change is necessary.

Do have any ideas for a solution?

I think in terms of making things, one solution might be to move up timing for showing a collection. I think now that they’re able to sell things so quickly in the world, and you have to be able to make things even faster in a short time period, but again, if we weren’t bound by fashion or trends, things like that, if we could again show the collection earlier, and then have more time to actually work on making things, that might be a solution. But of course we have fashion week, which is a set period, so we have to act in accordance to that. We can’t be the only ones participating, so we have to consider that as well.

For consumers who are not familiar with Issey Miyake, how would you explain the label?

Just to give you an example, what you put on in the morning really affects the way you feel. So when you get up, you want to say, okay, what kind of transition do I want to have? Am I meeting someone important today, am I giving a business presentation? Whatever it is, what you wear is going to affect that, so again, for our items as well, what you wear might give you energy because of the colors, you might feel brighter because you’re wearing something lighter, you might want to take a trip somewhere — all these things have an influence on your actual behavior and your actions, so we want to have a positive influence on people’s actions we’ve had for a while within the company. In the current age with the internet, women are sometimes less active, but I feel that there are people who are more active and we like to support that. In today’s world there’s a lot of information, and there’s a lot of clothing, but we’re trying to do something than everyone else, and that’s one thing we’d like to convey. So for Issey Miyake, we always want to offer something new in terms of giving people something interesting, something a little fun, because Issey Miyake himself always said life is supposed to be a joy, we’re supposed to have an element of surprise to it, not in terms of scaring someone, but enjoyment in that way, so I think that’s something that fashion has the power to do. I think in the world today, there’s a lot of people who are depressed, and there’s a lot of issues, but we think, what can we offer people through fashion? That’s something that we can come into play by offering something surprising or fun. I’d like to continue my work offering things like that.

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