Figures in Fashion– an Ode to Issey Miyake
Written by Kyn Hyde
As we celebrate Earth Day and honor the life and work of the late Issey Miyake on his first posthumous birthday, it is impossible not to be moved by his enduring influence on the world of fashion, sustainability, and technology. Miyake was a trailblazer who fearlessly pushed the boundaries of traditional clothing design and construction, using innovative materials and techniques to create garments that were not only stylish but also practical and sustainable. With his unique vision and unwavering commitment to environmental consciousness, Miyake continues to inspire generations of designers and fashion enthusiasts worldwide. So, what better time than now to commemorate the extraordinary legacy of Issey Miyake?
This is "Figures in Fashion", an essay developed by Kyn Hyde.
The concept of mathematics can be a daunting and intimidating phenomenon for those of us who are not inherently attracted to it, such as myself. Nonetheless, through the years, I’ve come to recognize that math is unavoidable– as every being, object, formation in nature, or even idea in this world is manifested through the science of numbers. Each industry, ranging from dermatology to professional sports, has essential mathematical functions that are incumbent for a successful production. But what does this look like for an institution rooted in artistry and imaginative expression, such as fashion? Using experimental methods, Japanese fashion mogul Issey Miyake married design with mathematics and technology, pronouncing him one of the industry’s most transformative innovators.
In 1964, Miyake graduated from Tama Art University in Tokyo, where he studied graphic design. About six years later, Miyake established the “Miyake Design House”, and began his practice as a fashion designer, immersing women’s clothing with the technical and analytical skills developed during his collegiate study.
One of Miyake’s first distinctive endorsements of mathematics in fashion was his “single piece of cloth” concept. Inspired by the ubiquitous draping techniques of Madeleine Vionnet, the “single piece of cloth” theory denotes Miyake’s process for deriving a complete, three-dimensional garment from one singular thread, all while producing zero waste. This system set The Patriarch of Pleats apart from others of his era, as it was most common for designers to outsource fabrics and divert from practicing sustainable fashion. Miyake’s thread theory is the first operation in his boundless creative equation and is the foundation for the reverence of measurement and computation within his designs.
In 1998, Miyake brought on Designer and Creative Director Dai Fujiwara to spearhead “A-POC” (A Piece of Cloth). This brand digitalized the singular thread concept, discharging production to technological machines rather than execution by hand. Issey Miyake and Dai Fujiwara meticulously experimented with geometrics within the label.
In 2010, Miyake’s brand launched the “8 Geometry Link Models as Metaphor of the Universe” collection, which was Fujiwara’s homage to mathematician William Thurston for his “Geometrization Conjecture”, a conclusion about the geometric branch of topology. In this distinctive field of mathematics, “two objects are considered equivalent if they can be continuously deformed into one another through such motions in space as bending, twisting, stretching, and shrinking while disallowing tearing apart or gluing together parts,” reports Brittanica.com.
Essentially, topologists study the qualitative continuation of geometric space and shapes. Thurston’s 1970s conjuncture proposes that “compact 3-manifolds can be decomposed canonically into submanifolds that have geometric structures,” according to scientificlib.com. Dai Fujiwara and his creative team were so immersed in topology that Thurston and his colleagues housed them in seminars at Cornell University, where he instructed.
“Mathematics and design are both expressions of human creative spirit,” expressed Thurston during an interview at the launch of the collection in Paris. Miyake’s implementation of topology principles and mathematical anomalies are manifested through the robust curvatures and vigorous cyclical formations that characterize the majority of his garments, dating back to even his earliest creations.
Topology wasn’t Issey Miyake’s first jab at implanting mathematics on the runway. Experimentation with origami was also heavily instituted in the brand’s core aesthetic. The symmetrical and geometrical nature of the art expression was replicated in the label’s “132 5” collection from the Autumn of 2010 season.
The collection was led by the brand’s subsidiary, “Reality Lab”, which is “a space devoted to nurturing the work of designers and engineers dedicated to interrogating the link between mathematics and fashion design,” defined bubblegum.com. The collection’s name is a play on numbers– 1 referring to the “one piece of cloth” concept, 3 referring to the garment’s three-dimensional shape, 2 identifying Miyake’s process of folding that 3D shape into a two-dimensional one, and 5 signifying the fifth dimension– when the garment is personified by the wear of it. This collection eradicated the cutting and sewing process of Miyake’s designs altogether and replaced it with the folding and molding practiced within origami. Another testament to his sustainable, conservative, and green design ethos.
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The progressive inclination of Issey Miyake’s relationship with design is what distinguishes him as a trendsetter in both mathematics and sedulous style. The coupling of two of the most universal languages in the world, math and fashion, is an honorary feat that makes the fashion industry at large eternally indebted to Issey Miyake. In an oversaturated profession where purposeful artistry has become more diluted than ever, Miyake’s intrinsic desire to exhibit the nuances of everyday patterns within his design work exemplifies his appreciation for the imitation of life through art. Fashion is a practice that habitually uses numbers in ways sometimes overlooked by both creators and consumers, but for the late Issey Miyake, fashion could not exist without figures.
“132 5. Issey Miyake.” Design Observer, https://designobserver.com/feature/132-5-issey-miyake/15558.
Beaton, Holly, et al. “Fashion + Mathematics Intertwined: Issey Miyake’s Legacy – Bubblegum Club.” Bubblegum Club – A Cultural Organisation Working across All Platforms and Mediums, 17 Nov. 2020, https://bubblegumclub.co.za/fashion/fashion-mathematics-intertwined-issey-miyakes-legacy/.
Geometrization Conjecture, http://www.scientificlib.com/en/Mathematics/LX/GeometrizationConjecture.html.
“Geometry and Topology.” Department of Mathematics, https://www.mn.uio.no/math/english/research/groups/geometry-topology/.
“Issey Miyake.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., https://www.britannica.com/biography/Issey-Miyake.
Randall, Kimberly. “A Piece of Cloth for the Future: Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.” Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, 5 Sept. 2019, https://www.cooperhewitt.org/2019/09/23/a-piece-of-cloth-for-the-future/.
rheashah21, Posted by. “Inspired: Issey Miyake.” Poems&Passports, 14 Mar. 2018, https://poemsandpassports.wordpress.com/2018/03/14/inspired-issey-miyake/.