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.

  • 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:


Chris Gordon

The Readings Prize Shortlist Showdown: Chris Gordon defends Last Day in the Dynamite Factory

At our recent Readings Prize Shortlist Showdown event, six writers gave a speech in defence of the book they believed most deserves to win the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction. Readings Events Manager Chris Gordon spoke in praise of Annah Faulkner’s novel Last Day in the Dynamite Factory. Read more »


Michaela McGuire

The Readings Prize Shortlist Showdown: Michaela McGuire defends Hot Little Hands

At our recent Readings Prize Shortlist Showdown event, six writers gave a speech in defense of the book they believed most deserves to win the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction. Writer and Emerging Writers’ Festival Director Michaela McGuire spoke in praise of Abigail Ulman’s short story collection, Hot Little Hands. Read more »


Kill Your Darlings

What We’re Reading: Readings staff share their September picks

Looking for a book recommendation? Staff from Readings bookshop share what they’ve been reading this month. Read more »


Rebecca Shaw

Playing It Straight: On queer actors, queer characters, and ‘bravery’

In the past few weeks, I’ve noticed an unwelcome trend reappearing; one I had hoped was long dead and buried, along with frosted tips. It is the discussion around whether queer actors can play heterosexual characters. Read more »


Rebecca Shaw

Girl Gang: The value of female friendship

For two years I was the only girl in my class, along with four boys. Perhaps this would have been some kind of fantastic Lynx-filled utopia for a boy-crazy pre-teen girl, but for someone who was just beginning to figure out that she didn’t like boys in the same way other girls seemed to, it wasn’t what you could call ideal. Read more »


Rebecca Shaw

Written On the Body: Fat women and public shaming

The policing and subsequent shaming of women’s bodies is not unique to famous women. It happens to all women. Feeling entitled to denigrate fat bodies, and fat women’s bodies in particular, is one of the last bastions of socially acceptable discrimination. Read more »


Anwen Crawford

Throne Of Blood: Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth

For more than four centuries, we have found versions of ourselves in Shakespeare’s plays precisely because his characters are so human in their flaws and follies. At the same time, the arc of these characters’ stories unfolds somewhere above and beyond us, in the realm of grand tragedy or grand comedy, or both. Read more »


Anwen Crawford

Memorable Chills: Edgerton’s Gift

The Gift is Australian actor Joel Edgerton’s directorial debut — he also wrote, produced, and stars in it — and it bodes well for Edgerton’s directing career. A psychological thriller, The Gift is efficiently and quite memorably chilling, at least for the first half. Read more »


Joanna Di Mattia

Escaping The Wolfpack: Inside and outside the screen

The Wolfpack introduces us to the six Angulo brothers, who were kept virtual prisoners for 14 years in their Lower East Side apartment. More than a captivity narrative, this is a film about the influence of cameras and screens, and the transfixing, liberating power of cinema. Read more »


Alexis Drevikovsky

Have You Ever Felt Like This: Going Round the Twist again

Working from home one day, I took my lunchbreak away from my laptop and flicked idly through the TV channels, hoping for a midday movie with Reese Witherspoon or, even better, an old episode of Cheers. What I found was beyond my wildest dreams. I excitedly texted my mate Alison: Round the Twist is on ABC3! Read more »


Jane Hone

How the Golden Age of Television Brought Us Back Together

I recently heard someone say that it used to be that at 6pm, everyone would sit down to watch The Cosby Show. It seemed at once a quaint and almost sci-fi notion ­– millions of people watching the same show at the same time. How things have changed. Read more »

glitch abc tv

Stephanie Van Schilt

A Glitch in the System: The ABC’s undead gamble

In one gasping breath, Glitch shows that the ABC is stumbling towards something beloved by TV audiences the world over, but that regularly eludes the Australian and film and TV industry: genre. And not just any genre, but the ‘return-from-the-dead’ zombie-style genre. Read more »


Katie Williams

The More Things Change: Choice and consequence in Life is Strange

You can either be a benevolent hero or a monster, but few games deal with the multitudes contained by actual people. And what does it matter, anyway? There’s no such thing as regret when it comes to in-game decision-making – not when you can so easily restart the game to see what outcome will result from choosing Option B instead. Read more »

svfw crop

Katie Williams

Silicon Valley Fashion Week?: Fashion, technology, and wearability

Last week saw the inaugural Silicon Valley Fashion Week? (yes, with a question mark) unfold in San Francisco. The show promised ‘drones, robots, and mad inventions’, and tickets sold out swiftly; attendees were clearly eager to see more inventive clothing in this heartland of nerds. Read more »

AnimalCrossing copy

Katie Williams

Digging For Meaning in Utopia: Storytelling in Animal Crossing

Animal Crossing is a series of games in which – as my partner once remarked incredulously – ‘nothing ever happens.’ In its latest incarnation, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, you become the unwitting mayor of a town populated by anthropomorphic, bipedal animals. Read more »

Straight White Men - Public Theatre - Photo by Julieta Cervantes

Jane Howard

Unbearable Whiteness: Young Jean Lee’s Straight White Men

Though I am delighted to see Young Jean Lee gain traction in Australia, a work by playwright who is a woman of colour should not be such a rare occurrence; nor should this only come in the form of a play that blends effortlessly into the fabric of the work that is programmed around it. Read more »


Jane Howard

Putting Words In People’s Mouths: Performing the unseen, speaking the unknown

‘Do you ever get the feeling someone is putting words in your mouth?’ A performer asks an audience member in the front row. ‘Say yes.’
‘Yes,’ comes the reply.
This theme ran through multiple shows at Edinburgh Fringe this year, where occasionally audience members, but more often performers, were asked to perform scripts sight unseen. Read more »


Jane Howard

The Impenetrable City: Getting lost at Edinburgh Fringe Festival

I just saw a one-on-one performance piece that ended in my bursting into tears and the artist sitting with me and holding my hands in hers for maybe ten, maybe fifteen, maybe twenty minutes. We had a shared piece of history, and her work was delicate and took me by surprise, and I have a cold, and I am homesick, and I don’t know why I’m in Edinburgh, and I’ve cried a lot, and now I’m in a gallery because I couldn’t face another show. Read more »