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Permeating boundaries: The art of Issey Miyake

by Estelle Tang , April 2, 20105 Comments

Prithvi Varatharajan went to a lecture about the Issey Miyake fashion label, presented by its creative director Dai Fujiwara. The event was hosted by RMIT as part of the 2010 L’Oréal Fashion Week. The lecture covered Issey Miyake’s groundbreaking design concepts, including ‘A Piece of Cloth’. In this range, each garment is created using a single piece of cloth. Prithvi wrote about the show and the potential that results from crossing boundaries in art.

I’d agreed to review the Dai Fujiwara lecture and subsequent exhibition – a display of Issey Miyake’s ‘A-POC Baguette’ garment – on radio. I should make it clear that I know next to nothing about fashion. In fact, this was what motivated me to go. I wondered how I’d review an art I’d neither studied nor practised. What vocabulary would I draw on? What standard of criteria? Being used to talking about books and writing, I was curious to see if I could find a way into fashion. I was reminded of Goethe’s maxim on the absurdity of cross-disciplinary criticism, that ‘writing about music is like dancing about architecture’.

So, I was surprised to be so engaged by Fujiwara’s talk. I scrawled pages of notes on unusual fashion designs, starting with the ‘A-POC’ range. A-POC stands for A Piece of Cloth, and represents Issey Miyake’s core design principle. In A-POC, a double-knit length of cloth with pre-designated cutting lines is produced on a machine. When cut, this (somehow) yields a complete, and often seamless, garment.

The garment not only looks good, but entails a massive saving in raw materials – and environmental impact. Fujiwara noted that an average dress from a fashion designer requires 45 metres of cloth to make, and is often cut three times before it’s done right – so it takes up to 135 metres of cloth. A-POC dresses only require 1.5 metres. Even their jeans are eco-friendly, as they don’t need water in the manufacturing process (according to Fujiwara, jeans manufacture can take up to 40 litres of water a pair).

But what excites me most about Issey Miyake is the – often wild – creativity of their design processes. One of Fujiwara’s most bizarre projects was his appropriation of the vortex spiral in Dyson Vacuum Cleaners. He enlisted the help of James Dyson, the CEO of the company, in adapting the vortex to a clothing range. It’s hard to imagine, but the design seemed to work on the clothes.

Another range came out of a collaboration between Fujiwara and an American mathematician. The mathematician held the figure-eight to be a universal structural component, an idea that Fujiwara used to model clothes. But my favourite (because of its irreverence for catwalks) is the ‘Karate Kata’ project. In this project, he set out to create a loose-fitting dinner jacket – because, he explained, ‘jackets are always uncomfortable’. Karate masters were called in to test the flexibility of the jackets during the design process. They were suited up, and told to make hand-to-hand combat. Fujiwara commented on the showing of this range that ‘no one expected to see karate on the catwalk.’

Fujiwara says he is most interested in moments when ‘fashion touches another world’. He has a child-like curiosity about other disciplines, and wants the boundaries between them to be permeable. This remark struck a chord with me, because I’d been thinking about intellectual curiosity (as well as the lack of it) in the arts.

I think what largely attracted me to literature and the arts when I started university was a notion I had of artists (and viewers of art) being, or becoming, open-minded. But that open-mindedness seemed, sometimes, not to extend beyond the artist’s or viewer’s kin. I found that there were distinct camps even within the arts – to take literature as an example – of academics and ‘shirt-sleeves’ critics; of fiction writers, poets and playwrights; of male and female readers. Why did I sometimes feel, going from one camp to the other, that I was crossing a no-man’s land?

The Issey Miyake lecture brought home to me that boundary-crossing activities in the arts – when ‘fashion touches another world’ – can be immensely enriching. The motivation to cross boundaries begins with curiosity and leads, I think, to greater openness of attitude – and to greater art.

Take a look at the Issey Miyake website.

See a demonstration of the A-POC method here.

Prithvi Varatharajan is a freelance radio producer for ABC Radio National.




  • Leslie Cartwright

    So interesting and inspiring.
    Issey Miyake’s designs are are stylish and chic,
    and the A-POC idea is brilliant.
    Prithvi makes a good point about boundary-crossing within the arts.
    And like him, I want one of those karate dinner-jackets!

  • Prithvi

    Leslie, I wonder how much those jackets cost. You’d think they’d be cheaper because of the raw materials saving. (I bet they’d make a good conversation topic too – handy to have on you at awkward dinner parties…)

    Thanks Sarah! It’s weird thinking of fashion designers being environmentally conscious, isn’t it? Actually, he did say he played up the ‘greenness’ of A-POC in the early 2000s, when it was conceived, because it was trendy to market it that way – but that now he lets the design speak for itself.

    I used to think of the fashion industry as one that ate through raw materials (in the way the petroleum industry does – but on a smaller scale), but I guess that’s not always the case!

  • Sarah

    Really interesting article. I love the idea of fashion being used to highlight the issue of sustainability. I also appreciate the point about
    crossing (or even transgressing) academic borders. As an arts graduate myself, I have sometimes been disappointed by the divisiveness that exists between academic factions. Great thought-provoking article.

  • http://www.thinkecoshop.com.au Michaela

    It adds an interesting layer to read a non-fashionista’s review of a fashion house that has done some deeper thinking than what length hemlines should be next season.

  • Prithvi

    Hi Michaela, I like your website – it looks smart & the range of goods & resources on it’s impressive!

    If you want to do some eco-networking, a friend runs this one specialising in recycled & 2nd hand goods, like those inner-tube satchels you’ve got but made from fire hoses: http://www.bnaked.net/

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