Top And Bottom, Front And Back… A Pretty Picture

Issey Miyake X Ikko Tanaka bag T&BJust as we thought Issey Miyake’s bags will forever be the Bao Bao series, madly beloved throughout Southeast Asia, out comes something completely poles apart. Here’s a handbag that has less to do with the avant garde and more a reflection of tradition and art. That’s not saying the Bao Bao isn’t artistic, but Miyake’s use of graphic designer Ikko Tanaka’s illustrations for this hard bag of non-changing shape has more in common with silk kimonos, even paper fans, than pleated shifts.

Here, the ‘Carapace Sharaku’, as it is called, is an apt description. Firstly, the bag comprises two hard vinyl-chloride resin shells that belie its rather capacious interior. Secondly, when completely unzipped to its hinge, it can hang vertically as upper and lower pieces, depicting the full length of Mr Tanaka’s charming illustration: a stylised Japanese kabuki actor, shyly hiding behind what appears to be a shield (possibly a fan). This is Mr Tanaka’s take on the work of Toshusai Sharaku, a ukiyo-e print artist from the 18th century hitherto still not conclusively identified. In this version, the delineation is flatter and devoid of extraneous symbols, or what Apple users will identify as the flat UI on their screens, starting from IOS 7.

Issey Miyake X Ikko Tanaka bagThe front and back of a closed ‘Carapace Sharaku’

Ikko Tanaka is one of Japan’s most known and illustrious graphic designers. He was part of the trio—including writer/marketer Kazuko Koike (who wrote Issey Miyake: East Meets West) and Super Potato Design’s Takashi Sugimoto—that conceptualised and designed Mujirushi Ryohin, or what we know today as MUJI. Mr Tanaka, who died in 2002, was recognised for his unabashed Japanese-ness in graphic design that was communicated in a Western vernacular, especially minimal, geometric shapes. The East-West aesthetic was so powerful in its arresting simplicity that it drew admirers such as Issey Miyake, who worked with Mr Tanaka on the former’s advertising for much of the ’90s.

In 2012, past collaborator Kazuko Koike curated the “Ikko Tanaka and Future/Past/East/West of Design” exhibition at 21_21 Design Centre, a museum and research facility—part of the Tokyo Midtown complex—that was initiated by Issey Miyake and designed by Tadao Ando. Fast forward to 2016, the house of Miyake pays its own tribute with a capsule Pleats Please collection that features Mr Tanaka’s unique Japanese countenance. In the world of video-telephony (and amid the omnipresence of front-facing smartphone cameras), the ‘Carapace Sharaku’ and plissé dresses will no doubt connect to a generation that grew up on FaceTime.

Issey Miyake X Ikko Tanaka ‘Carapace Sharaku’ handbag, SGD730, is available at Pleats Please, Forum Galleria. Photos: Issey Miyake