art news



Pleats Please


 Issey Miyake

"making things"

by Carol Mongo


"I'm not a fashion designer," says Issey Miyake emphatically. "Anything that's 'in fashion' goes out of style too quickly. I don't make fashion. I make clothes." More than just a garment designer, Issey Miyake combines non-traditional materials and futuristic techniques with traditional Japanese fabrics to create an artistic interpretation of his country's culture and costumes across the ages. He is, indeed, an artist who chooses to express himself through clothes, which is the subject of an exhibition, "Issey Miyake:  Making Things," at the Fondation Cartier until January 17.

For 30 years, Miyake and his Design Studio have examined, experimented with and explored the various ways clothing can be defined. This show, an event entirely conceived by the 60-year-old designer for the foundation's space, illustrates the fruits of Miyake's efforts over last 10 years. Four major themes take the visitor on a voyage through the designer's innovations: "Jumping" (freedom and movement); "Pleats Please Guest Series" (the relationship between art and design); "Laboratory" (research on materials and new methods of production); and "Starburst" (clothing of the future).

As you arrive in front of the building, life-size jumping jacks wave you in. They are part of a mobile installation set into motion as you pass by any one of 25 garments suspended from motorized electric eye pulleys.  Titled "Jumping," it is an unusual dance of multicolored pleated clothing, some resembling party lanterns, sorceresses or exotic birds flapping their wings. This segment explores body movement and how it transforms a flattened disc of fabric into a billowing polychrome dress or a twist of delightfully wrinkled material into a lantern, flying saucer or moving seaweed.

Miyake has, for years, involved the participation of artists. "Pleats Please," a collection of simply cut garments made from pleated fabric is not only a commercial venture, but also a support for the works of his fine arts friends. Guided by the desire to surprise, Miyake called on painters, photographers, choreographers, video artists and poets. "I knew that I wanted to do something strange, something complex," he explains. "I did not want to choose an artist who was too fashionable but rather an individual who draws on provocative ideas. Perhaps also an artist who focuses on the body and eroticism."

Yasumasa Morimura uses his body as a tool of expression. As a result, Miyake invited him to print a selection of his images onto a series of his garments. Morimura chose images created in the late 1980s which were inspired by Ingres' painting "The Source." Conserving the top half of the naked model which was painted in 1856, Morimura added the photograph of his own body covered with scarlet netting. This was "grafted" onto the lower part of the image and superimposed on the legs of the female figure. Contrasting with the turquoise, violet, orange or yellow backgrounds, the printed image moves, lives and breathes according to the movements of the body covered by the article of clothing.

Araki, one of Japan's most controversial photographers, uses his craft as an autobiographical tool. From appearance to disappearance, the pieces created for Miyake are based around the theme of memory. Either printed on the clothing before it is pleated  for the Appear series  or afterwards  for the Disappear series  the photographs reveal or erase the image of a pensive young woman or the artist's self-portrait, according to the forms and the body's movements.

Like Morimura and Araki, Tim Hawkinson explores different ways of representing the body. Using the theme of the self-portrait, "Bathtub Generated Contour Lace" (1995) reveals  a dense interlace of lines forming a piece of lace derived from the frontal silhouette of his body stretched out in a bathtub, slowing being filled in with black paint. "I took photos as the paint spread, only leaving a few patches of skin apparent," he explained. "By superimposing these images, I created a contour that I then made reappear in the twists and turns of the lace." "Hangmanofmycircumference" (1995) represents the profile of the artist's body which was divided into three cm-thick "sections" then reproduced on graph paper.

For this series, Miyake also collaborated with Cai Guo-Qiang.  Based on 1,000-year-old religious, aesthetic and philosophical traditions, the work of Qiang has incorporated fire since 1984, taking on a risky dimension a few years later with the use of gunpowder. In a performance titled "Dragon: Explosion on Issey Miyake Pleats Please," held on October 5 at the Cartier Foundation, Qiang put a match to a trail of gunpowder sprinkled over clothing placed on the ground in the form of a dragon, the Chinese symbol of life. Miyake then transferred those burned patterns (as prints) onto his garments as part of this final collaboration.

In order to fully appreciate the innovative nature of Miyake's work, though, you have to look behind the scenes at the designer's high-tech production methods. His clothes represent ongoing experimentation with shape and material. "Laboratory," the installation situated downstairs, offers the visitor a unique insight into the designer's "factory" methods. Greeting you at the bottom of the staircase is "Just Before," a lineup of mannequins whose similar black dresses, originating from a gigantic coil of supple, mat cloth, are strangely connected to each other. This is, in fact, fabric produced by a traditional knitting machine guided by a computer program.

Next door shows off the design genius of Miyake from start to finish. Divided into five themes: "Colombe," "Dunes," "Tubed Veil," "Prism Collage" and "A-POC," each is a magical blend of technology and art. The original material is displayed before its transformation on a wall overlooking the finished garment draped over a golden wire mesh mannequin in the shape of Milo's Venus. A computer image, showing all the design stages, is projected on the floor. Using a white, non-woven material, "Colombe," is sculpted into a dress using a simple yet ingenious process, requiring no scissors, no thread, no needles.

Originally inspired by origami, the garment representing "Dunes" is cut twice its normal size. Rounded patches and tapes are fitted to the parts of the garment requiring a certain degree of ease. Afterwards, the garment is dipped into a special shrinking solution which instantly shrinks it except in those places protected by the patches and tapes. With "Tubed Veil," a long tube of extremely light material is folded over and wound in such a way that it composes a double thickness around the body. The inner layer of the garment, designed to be in contact with the skin, having previously undergone chemical process for shrinking, giving the fabric a delightfully diaphanous texture. The outer layer is left as is to be draped around the silhouette.

"Starburst," the final leg of the exhibition, shows off Miyake's glimpse into the 21st century. Faced with dwindling global resources and the emergence of new needs, Miyake believes it vital that we rethink our manufacturing and production processes and stimulate the virtuosity of textile techniques by reusing articles of clothing while, at the same time, remaining fundamentally attached to the creation of new, free and timeless forms. Fine sheets of metallic paper, placed like successive layers of an onion, form a sandwich over cotton, flannel, wool, felt or jersey clothing. As the clothing is ripped away from the base, strips of foil stand out on the clothing according to an accidental schema, and sweep the entire silhouette with silver, gold and copper fragments of light.

"Issey Miyake: Making Things," Tue-Sun noon to 8pm, Fondation Cartier, 261, bd Raspail, 14e. tel: Also peak at this expo on the foundation's web site at



issue: November  98


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