A True Pioneer

Obituary | There is no better way to describe Issey Miyake: He was, without doubt, ahead of his time

The world mourned an iconoclast of fashion design when it was reported yesterday in the Japanese press (and immediately picked up by the West) that Issey Miyake had died five days earlier. An official statement issued by the company he founded in 1970 Miyake Design Studio (MDS) stated that the designer “passed away on August 5th, 2022, at a hospital in Tokyo, surrounded by close friends and associates. The cause of death was hepatocellular carcinoma”, considered a common type of liver cancer (the same disease that took the life of another Japanese fashion designer of the era, Mitsuhiro Matsuda, in 2008). According to Nikkei Asia, “the funeral has already been held”. A company employee was quoted by The Japan Times to have indicated that there would not be a public ceremony, as the designer had requested. Mr Miyake was 84.

Born Miyake Kazumaru (the Japanese characters 一生 also read as Issey, which he adopted professionally) in 1938, in Hiroshima, the south of Japan’s largest island Honshu, he grew up in the higashi-ku (or east ward) of the city. At the time, Hiroshima was a military base, and considered a prominent one, where the residents, according to the city’s own literature, worked for the army or were from Korea and Taiwan, which were then Japanese colonies. Six years later, in 1945, an American B-29 bomber released the world’s first atomic bomb, code-named Little Boy, on Hiroshima. Mr Miyake was himself a little boy when the attack struck. His experience during the bombing, which obliterated his home city and resulted, at the end of that year, the death of between 90,000 to 166,000 city folks, most of whom were civilians, was never truly recounted. But in a now-famous and oft-quoted op-ed for The New York Times in 2009, he wrote: “When I close my eyes, I still see things no one should ever experience: a bright red light, the black cloud soon after, people running in every direction trying desperately to escape—I remember it all. Within three years, my mother died from radiation exposure.” He still did not talk about his younger days, least of all the precise details of living in the aftermath of the bombings, but that fateful day in 1945 did leave him with a pronounced limp.

Issey Miyake in 1970. Photo: Claude Charlie’s/Vogue

As an adult and through his professional life, he offered almost no glimpse of his formative years, fearing any recollection might label him, as he wrote, “the designer who survived the atomic bomb”. In fact, till his piece for NYT, not many knew of his war-time experience. “I have always avoided questions about Hiroshima. They made me uncomfortable.” To understand his discomfort, we may have to look at the experiences of others who survived the bombing. In one 2014 report in The Chugoku Shimbun, a former electrical technician Shinji Mikamo, by then 87, described how he lost his family and home to the American attack. The situation in Hiroshima was already tense at the time. “To create a fire lane in the event of an air raid,” the paper wrote, “he was helping to dismantle his house. He was on the roof, removing roof tiles to take them to the spot where the house would be rebuilt. Suddenly, a yellow ball of fire, three times as large as the sun, filled his vision. At the same instant, he felt a blast of intense heat, as if splashed with boiling water… his pants had caught fire and he suffered serious burns to his right thigh. He was also burned and wounded on his back, right arm, both hands, and face.”

We do not know much of Mr Miyake’s youth following the Hiroshima bombing, or his health, but a 2010 article in the British paper The Telegraph wrote that he was diagnosed with a bone-marrow disease when he was 10 years old. In 2015, he finally revealed more to the Japanese paper The Yomiuri Shimbun. He said, “I was a first-grade primary school student when the atomic bomb was dropped 70 years ago on Hiroshima on August 6. I heard the boom all of a sudden when I entered a classroom after a morning assembly. A broken piece of window glass got stuck into my head. I was frightened. I told the people at the home to which I had been evacuated, ‘I want to go home,’ and they gave me lots of hard, dry biscuits. I headed home alone to search for my mother. People were burned, lying on top of each other, and others gathered at a stream for water. I found my mother, who was burned over half her body, the following day. I developed periostitis (inflammation of the connective tissue that surrounds bone) due to radiation exposure when I was a fourth-grader at primary school. Some people died of this disease, but I was saved by penicillin. My mother nursed me while I was fighting the disease and died soon after my condition improved.”

The illustration of Issey Miyake’s 1969 collection Constructible Cloth. Photo: Miyake Design Studio

The execution. Photo: Kishin Shinoyama/Miyake Design Studio

Whether he remained in Hiroshima is not ascertained, nor when he moved to Tokyo. We do know that Mr Miyake was interested in dance, but did not pursue it. In 1962, he enrolled in the private institution Tama Art University in the mountain suburb of Tama, west of Tokyo. He chose graphic design, as the school did not offer a course in fashion (his contemporaries included the late Makoto Wada—famed illustrator, as well as film director [1988’s Kaitō Ruby]). But fashion had stirred a deep interest in him when he became an ardent reader of his sister’s fashion magazines—in Japan they were an invaluable source of information and inspiration. So passionate he was about fashion that in 1960, during the World Design Conference (that gathered Japanese designers, architects and industrial designers with their European and American counterparts to discuss ‘Total Image for the 20th Century’ that year), which Japan was hosting for the first time, Mr Miyake shot a letter to the secretariat and put to them why clothing design was not part of the program. It is not known if he was given an answer.

Yet, according to MDS, “his focus upon clothing as design rather than fashion attracted attention”. Whether this was campus-wide, city-wide, or nation-wide, it is not specified. Although graphic design was the subject on his books, it was fashion design that Mr Miyake held on tightly to (surprising, he did not choose to go to Bunka Fashion College, where many of the country’s elite designers went). Reportedly, he started designing clothing for himself. Then the art director Jo Murakoshi, founder of the Tokyo advertising firm Light Publicity, came acalling with the suggestion that Mr Miyake designed the clothes for the calendar that he was doing for the fabric manufacturer Toyo Rayon, now know worldwide as Toray Industries. After his graduation, he created his first collection called nuno to ishi no uta (布と石の詩 or Poem of Cloth and Stone); its art-school vibe unmistakable. The collection enjoyed a proper show, staged at the old Tokyo Chamber of Commerce and Industry building in Marunouchi, not far from the Tokyo Imperial Palace. It is not quite certain what happened after the show or if it made a mark in Tokyo.

With his models at the end of his spring/summer 1988 collection. Photo: Getty Images

A year after he graduated in 1964, Mr Miyake decided to go to Paris, where just months earlier compatriot Kenzo Takada had arrived. There, he enrolled, as Mr Takada did too, at the prestigious L’École de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne (where the famed Bunka lecturer Chie Koike was educated and where a young Yves Saint Laurent was reportedly in her class) and stayed for a year. School was followed by work in surprisingly traditional couture houses: First, at Guy Laroche, and a year later, at Hubert de Givenchy. But Paris couture had insufficient pull and he moved to New York where he was assistant to Geoffrey Beene, who, in a 1999 interview for Veery Journal, curiously opined: “I admire Issey Miyake who worked for me at one time for his technique. I don’t think the clothes are modern but the technique is.” In New York, it was said that Mr Miyake took English classes at Columbia University, but it did not seem he intended to stay. In less than a year he was back in Tokyo.

In 1970, Miyake Design Studio was established upon the designer’s return. A year later, he was back in New York to stage his first overseas fashion show. The collection featured “body tights” in skin-coloured stretch fabrics on which images of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin—following their tragic deaths—were employed just like Japanese tattoos, only more vivid and, as was the graphic style of the time, pop. In 1973, he showed his first collection at Paris Fashion Week, and since then, the brand has not departed the Paris calendar (2023 would be its 50th year showing in Paris). While Mr Miyake was often placed together with Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons and Yohji Yamamoto as one of “The Big Three” to rock the French establishment in 1981 with their radical looks, which, ironically (even cruelly) was described as “Hiroshima chic”, among other names, he did debut earlier—eight years earlier, which made him the veritable veteran of the trio—and he did not show anything with holes. Ms Kawakubo’s and Mr Yamamoto’s overnight success probably bolstered Mr Miyake’s standing. Finally, the Japanese designers had arrived.

Poster for the Tokyo leg of the exhibition Issey Miyake Spectacle: Bodyworks. Photo: Miyake Design Studio

With The Plastic Body—his famous bustier made of fibreglass—at the Issey Miyake Spectacle: Bodyworks at the Laforet Museum Iikura, Tokyo in 1983. Photo: club21global.com

Three years after Mr Miyake’s Paris debut, in what can now be seen as a far-sighted idea, he staged an off-season show in Tokyo titled “Issey Miyake and Twelve Black Girls in Tokyo”, which trained the spotlight on Black models, including Grace Jones and Toukie Smith (sister of the designer Willi Smith of the ’80s label Williwear). It is tempting to say that the designer’s sojourn in New York in 1969 exposed him to the beauty and potential of Black models, just as American sportswear might have influenced him into wanting his clothes to be totally wearable and to reach many people, not just fashion folks. But while his designs were practical and practicable no matter how out-there they sometimes were, the clothes were not at all in the same league as Uniqlo’s Lifewear. Every design was a confluence of tradition and technology, with Mr Miyake equally interested in looms and software, in wefts and bytes. His famous Pleats Please line, born in 1993 that saw the garment (or object) pleated after they were cut and sewn, rather than before, as was the conventional practice (hence the patented “garment pleating”, a concept much copied), is testament to his willingness to see the tried-and-tested given a technological spin. Much of Mr Miyake’s pioneering and groundbreaking work will probably be covered by the press in the coming days.

Although he was unable to follow his love of dance professionally, Mr Miyake was able to support the art by designing costumes for ballets (and other dances), such as William Forsythe’s Frankfurt Ballet company in 1991. But the idea of fashion as performance-display-entertainment truly came in the form of the numerous exhibitions throughout the world that dramatically showcased his work. Bodyworks in 1983 is still considered the most unforgettable; it featured Mr Miyake’s most indentifiable construction The Plastic Body and the curvilineal armour made of bamboo, as an exploration of hard materials that could be made to be worn on a body, and in doing so, examine the space between the garment and the body. The result of the rattan bodice was so radical, but so beautiful in its form as well as its nod to traditional basketry that the magazine Artforum featured it on the cover of its February 1982 issue, making it the first-ever garment to appear. His reputation as an artist was slowly consolidated. But in 1994 and 1999, Mr Miyake relinquished the design of the men’s and women’s lines respectively to his assistant Naoki Takizawa (who in 2014 joined Uniqlo), in order to do research and explore new concepts—even at retail level—full-time.

With models for the Pleats Please launch show in Paris, 1993. Photo: AP

The designs of Issey Miyake were brought to our shores in the ’70s. Although the brand is presently linked to Club 21, with a freestanding boutique at The Shopping Gallery in the new Voco Orchard, it was the store of the ’80s and ’90s, Man and his Woman, that introduced it here. In the early ’70s proprietress and former journalist Judith Chung bought the line not long after Mr Miyake’s Paris debut for her first store at the now largely-forgotten Specialists’ Shopping Centre (where Orchard Gateway now stands). Ms Chung was an arden supporter of not just the trending European designers of the day, but also the those of the burgeoning Japanese avant-garde. She was no stranger to Japanese designers, having earlier stocked Kenzo Takada’s Jungle Jap. But in Issey Miyake, with whom she would form a firm friendship, she saw a talent that was special. And in time, not only did she carry the men’s (which was launched in 1978), she opened the brand’s stand-alone store in 1984—the first in Asia outside Japan—at The Promenade, where Man and his Woman moved to after Specialists’ Shopping Centre, in 1982. The Promenade was demolished in 2003 for the extension of the Paragon. In 1993, when Ms Chung closed Man and his Woman for good, the retail and distributorship of Issey Miyake went to Club 21.

An ex-staffer at the Issey Miyake store in The Promenade, who was later also a fashion stylist, shared on Instagram (we quote verbatim), “It was such a great learning experience to see , touch n sell all those collections . And Thanks to Judith I had the experienced to do buying , visited his Studios n meeting Mr Miyake himself in Tokyo. I learned so much !” One former designer told us that the Issey Miyake fibreglass bustier, The Plastic Body, was unforgettable: “First saw it in a magazine and was always sketching it in my text book while in class! When I finally saw it at Man and his Woman, I almost cried. It taught me that fashion could be art.” Another designer, now based in New York, said, “When Man and his Woman had a store in Specialists’ Shopping Center, a friend and I used to go there and try all the clothes! Back then, it was outré… but now…? That’s why he was so ahead of his time.” A former editor, who said that the designs made him rethink “how clothes could flow around the body”, told us, “people these days often talk about ‘newness’, a requisite that is stress to designers and retailers. Back then, Issey Miyake was newness, totally. And every season too.”

Illustration (top): Just So

Two Of A Kind: Pleated Are The Bags

With her new customisable pleated bags, Gin Lee won’t be the first nor the last to be inspired by the pioneering work of Issey Miyake

Pleats plenty: (left) Ginlee Make Bag. Photo: Ginlee Studio. (Right) Issey Miyake Crystal Rock Pleats Bag. Photo Issey Miyake Me

Some elements or details in fashion design are so connected to a particular designer that it’s almost impossible to disassociate one with the other. And vice versa. Take pleats, for example: one inevitably thinks of Issey Miyake. Sure, there is also the Spanish couturier Mariano Fortuny, but the works of both are not only decades apart, their outputs are worlds apart. Mr Miyake’s pleats, now attributed to the Issey Miyake Studio, are primarily effected as a finished garment, rather than product made from a pleated fabric. Through the years, Mr Miyake has introduced many innovations (and new technologies) in pleating, including curvilinear and bias pleating, as well as advances in micro-pleating, also known as plissé. And he does not only pleat clothes, he creates permanent folds on accessories and bags, too.

One of the fashion names here that appears to be taking a similar route is Gin Lee. The Singaporean, who overseas the creative output of the company, Ginlee Studio—co-founded with her Israeli husband Tamir Niv in 2011—didn’t incorporate pleats into her early output. In recent years, however, pleated garments seem to be the mainstay of her collections. There are the usual tented dresses, shell tops, and pajama-style pants that have become typical of pleated clothes, and now, in addition, bags. Just totes for the present, these were launched last month as part of a new sub-label called Ginlee Make, available at the brand’s flagship store in the refurbished Great World City.

The immediate reaction to these bags when seeing them for the first time could be best summed up by what two women at the store one weekend said, “so Pleats Please!” But that response has not only been evident with these bags. Similar comments were heard of her dresses, sold at Design Orchard. But the seeming similarity to the work of Issey Miyake was also apparent in the name of her new sub-label. Back in 1998, the year the A-POC (A Piece of Cloth) line was launched in Tokyo, Mr Miyake staged an exhibition at the Jean Nouvel-designed Foundation for Contemporary Art in Paris titled, Issey Miyake: Making Things. Uncanny? Or, coincidence?

How long must a recognisable design, fabric treatment, retail concept, or branding exercise remain or circulate in the market before mimicking them can be accepted and not considered a copy?

The Ginlee Make bags are the manifestation of the in-store service Make In Shop, a retail concept that offers “last-mile production” of those items that can be finished before watchful shoppers. As Ms Lee told the press last month, “When a customer places their order for a pleated bag, we’ll proceed to make it for her there. They can see it being made and customise their own version of it.” In Tokyo last year, at the world’s largest Homme Plissé Issey Miyake store in Aoyama, the brand availed its pleating process for customers to witness. Three times a week, over a relatively short time of an hour in the afternoon, engineers (they are specialists indeed) from the company’s Internal Pleats Laboratory show how the clothes are made: a massive machine swallows a sewn T-shirt, for example, cut 1.5 times the completed size, and in ten minutes, reveals the pleated garment. This, too, is last-mile production. How long must a recognisable design, fabric treatment, retail concept, or branding exercise remain or circulate in the market before mimicking them can be accepted and not considered a copy?

Sure, on the same note, we could also say, for instance, that Mary McFadden mimicked Mr Fortuny, but if you examined her pleats closely, the effect, as one Singaporean designer told us, “is more liquid”, and her silhouettes more boxy. Technologies in garment manufacture do become widely adopted, and the onus is upon the adopters to output designs that are distinctly theirs. Issey Miyake certainly did not invent pleating (and he wouldn’t claim he did), but what he undeniably introduced was a whole new way of working with—and on—the pleats. And there is tremendous conceptual heft and mathematical calculations involved. Much of the output require origami-like folds, as well as ingenious geometry. More importantly, to fans, he was the first to introduce the pleats that we now mostly associate with his brand, especially Pleats Please Issey Miyake, the line introduced in 1993, after the exhibition of the same name at the Tokyo Museum of Contemporary Art in 1990.

That Issey Miyake’s pleats would inspire Singaporean designers isn’t surprising. Pleating services here go as far back as the ’80s. Back then, there were primarily two major players: Mong Seng Pleats Garment, founded in 1974, and Owen Trading Company, launched in 1980. Between the two, Owen Trading was, as one designer told us, “at the top of its game”. The popularity of pleats rose in the mid-’80s, after Issey Miyake debuted a sub-brand Permanente in 1985, featuring the early forms of his distinctive creases and folds that culminated as the capsule Pleats in 1988. By the time Pleats Please was launched five years later, capturing the imagination of the world, many local designers were experimenting with pleats too, and many were doing so through the services of Owen Trading, owned and operated by three Tan brothers. One of them, Paul Tan, was the go-to guy for anything that can be pleated, even a scrap of fabric that can be turned into a small scarf.

Gin Lee at work in her Great World City store. Photo: Ginlee Studio

But towards the early ’00s, when pleated garments and accessories, and Pleats Please knock-offs were easily found, first in the fashion wholesale centres in China and, later, online, pleating was a dwindling business. In 2011, Owen Trading was sold to a young Raffles College of Higher Education fashion graduate Chiang Xiaojun, who renamed the company Bewarp Design Studio. With full access to pleating machines, Ms Chiang created Pleatation, the label totally dedicated to pleats, and a moniker—similar to Ginlee Make—unabashed of its alluding to Issey Miyake, in particular, Pleats Please and the older Plantation, introduced in 1981, and now part of the Issey Miyake subsidiary A-net, which produces brands such as ZUCCa and mercibeaucoup. The quality offered by the old Owen Trading, which counted some of our design luminaries, such as Thomas Wee, Frederick Lee, and the late Tan Yoong as customers, evaporated, according to some who have used the services of the renamed pleater. “She couldn’t keep up,” one of them told us, “she does only basic pleating. Nothing fancy.” Despite the skepticism, Ms Chiang opened two standalones for Pleatation: The Compleat Store, which, like Ginlee Studio, sold pleated totes. Both The Compleat Stores have closed. Even their website’s e-commerce component is now free of merchandise and activity. On the SGP Business website, the status of Bewarp Design Studio is marked “cancellation in progress.”

The sale of Owen Trading Company, after three decades of existence, to a then unknown individual, who is unable to protect it from total closure, perhaps serves as a cautionary tale. It is not quite clear why many brand owners choose pleating as the main design feature of their products. Is pleating an easy way to create a fashion line? Does it provide a differentiating factor to the clothes—or bags? Or, allow products categories that are more cost-efficient to produce (Pleats Please, being mainly made of a specially-produced polyester, is still less expensive than the main line)? If pleated garments and accessories offered low barriers to entry, why did Pleatation not take off? Some designers who had worked with Paul Tan in the past thought that he could have been retained by Bewarp Design Studio as a technical advisor. No one now knows what was the nature of the transaction. Mr Tan was last seen driving an SBS Transit bus.

It is possible that Gin Lee’s foray into pleated clothing and bags is the result of reduced competition. Based on the Make Bag alone, it isn’t difficult to see where her inspiration comes from. In a 2017 Financial Times interview, Issey Miyake, who is no longer actively involved in the designs of his numerous lines, said of his pleats: “It is my gift, my legacy, and if other designers look to Pleats Please for inspiration, I feel honoured and happy—it is a great compliment.” Whether that is Japanese niceness or diplomacy, or just resignation to the truth that he is widely copied, we may never know. But, as written on one decal we once saw in an atelier, “You can copy all you want, you’ll always be one step behind.”

Big-In-Japan In Paris

What did the Japanese show in digital Paris Men’s Fashion Week?


Kolor SS 2021The strange camera angles of Kolor. Screen grab: Kolor/YouTube

Like all the designers showing in this season’s digital Paris Men’s Fashion Week (PMFW), the Japanese designers submitted videos, all from Tokyo. One name was conspicuously missing: Comme des Garçons. We are unable to find out why the label has opted out of the digital showing. Designer Rei Kawakubo, as most know, works in mysterious ways. Her brand breaks rules; it does not even have a fully working website, just a landing page (this does not include the sub-brand CDG, whose website is essentially an e-shop). Even the offspring Comme des Garçons SHIRT, usually shown in a small tight space, was out of PMFW. Similarly, the brand under Comme des Garçons, Junya Watanabe MAN, has gone AWOL. As of now, it is not known what Comme des Garçons and its related brands are up to. Nor, Sacai, whose designer Chisato Abe was supposed to have been the guest designer of Jean Paul Gaultier’s couture collection, but nothing has yet come out of that.

Also not in sight/site was Issey Miyake’s main line. The brand only showed Homme Plissé via a cheery video, called Meet Your New Self, that approximated the optimism typical of its IRL staging. It opened with a model in a sanatorium-like room (there’s a square window that afforded a view of the sky), watering a small plant. A symbol of growth and renewal? Then, eerily, two garments out of a dozen on a rack in a corner started to move untouched. The model was drawn to them, took them down, and danced with them. He then slipped the clothes on and continued dancing. Meanwhile the plant bloomed: two flowers were seen. Spring? Colour? Life? The flowers (more) were later revealed to be made of the house’s signature plissé fabric. This concept of dancing model and freak blooming was repeated through two other models until a last dance, featuring, presumably, the full collection.

Issey Miyake SS 2021A truncated snap of Issey Miyake’s film. Screen grab: isseymiyake.com

The positivity and buoyancy at Issey Miyake was not shared by his compatriots. Japanese designers, often more avant garde (or downright weird) than other designers showing in Paris, seemed more restrained in the digi-sphere. We were hoping that they would be the ones to create the online experience so far eluding us in the fashion weeks thus far. Unusual, boundary-pushing, or even bawdy (as in late-night Japanese TV), we did not see. The designers succumbed to what was expected of them: different. But that was not necessarily engaging.

Strange did appear. Doublet’s Masayuki Ino offered the film Strangest Comfort, hosted by a man dressed as a teddy bear made of knitted patchwork. As stated in the narration, this was “a story of a bear who loves Christmas, birthday, and Valentine”, who, with nothing to do in summer, decided to celebrate “a very happy unbirthday”. As it turned out, this bear is a talented pattern-maker and sewer. The result was a fashion collection. The man-as-bear packed and gift-wrapped the clothes he made, and delivered to some people, who, rather than be shocked by the delivery person in such a get-up, received the gifts gleefully. And every recipient was happy. “Fin.”

Doublet SS 2021The strange man-as-teddy bear of Doublet. Screen grab: Doublet/YouTubeMihara Yasuhiro SS 2021The puppet show at Mihara Yasuhiro. Screen grab: Maison Mihara Yasuhiro/YouTube

More creatures in the form of puppets were seen at Mihara Yasuhiro who delivered a fashion show, More or Less, attended by rag puppets! All as madcap as the Muppets, they were even unable to resist taking selfies. (Far cuter that the kitschy Barbie and Ken-like dolls at New Yoker Colm Dillane’s jokey KidSuper.) The runway presentation was straightforward enough, with models of the human kind doing their turn, but with head obscured by a square-faced emoticon. In this way, how the models looked was truly immaterial. We could concentrate on the clothes, which remain in the domain of hybrid styles with details that will catch you by surprise.

Odd rather than weird was Teppei Fujita of Sulvam’s show. The video captured a couple posing, if you could call standing around that, in front of his undisclosed atelier, on a road divider, under an elevated highway, with only the hum of the traffic for the soundtrack. This could, of course, be budget constraints turned into alt-art, but if there is one thing the former pattern-maker at Yohji Yamamoto needed for his striking clothes, it is context, not hints of homelessness, especially when he told the viewer, “I have no specific concept for each season”

20-07-15-17-06-50-198_decoAuralee’s quiet elegance in an equally quiet setting. Screen grab: Auralee/VimeoFumito Ganryu SS 2021Fumito Ganryu’s meaningless film. Screen grab: Fumito Ganryu/YouTube

Of course, the lack of concept, or a compelling one, struck the whole PMFW. If conceptual heft cannot be offered (understandable, given the conditions), why not just show the garments? Auralee’s Ryota Iwai did. The clothes on our side of the screen looked good, but the hi-def cameras dwelled lovingly a little too long on the faces and hands of the models. We are sure that followers of Japanese fashion would appreciate looking at details up close rather than at the make-up free models, however lovely they are. One of our favourite brands Junichi Abe’s Kolor showed clothes too, but it isn’t clear why the video’s head-spinning camera-work looked like the result of a toddler inexplicably given a GoPro, all seven-plus minutes long. Although many of us will subsequently look at stills and look-books, it is, nevertheless, annoying that, at first encounter with the collection, we were left wanting more, not to mention with motion sickness.

As we have mentioned before, the digital fashion week is used to augment a brand’s image. But these are no newbies and their brand image have not been vague. Sumito Ganryu, as a label, is fairly new. And his need to make a powerful visual impact is understandable. Unfortunately, Mr Ganryu’s video, like so many others featured during PMFW, was slapped with such a heavy dose of pretentiousness, that the stop button was screaming to be clicked just 10 seconds into the screening. The star of the show is a stack of CRT televisions showing unremarkable scenes. When two models organising a clothes rack and shelf appeared, we started asking ourselves if the one-and-a-half minutes spent on the film were better used watching something more meaningful.

White Moutaineering SS 2021

Such as White Mountaineering. Designer Yosuke Aizawa’s simple but striking film married a fashion show to the marvels of digital graphics. Is this what “phygital” looks like? The starting point was simple enough: the pattern block. From here, clever use of CGI allowed the cut fabrics to fly off the table, and fall on the model, emerging from a border-less space. The pieces landed on his body in the correct sequence, and the fashion show, as close to a real one, began. The pattern motif was repeated visually like electric charges, perhaps underscoring the importance of the technical block and the fact that many Japanese designers are master patterners themselves. The presentation was filmed in hi-res, and the close-ups truly allowed us to see the details of the garments. The seam tapes on the underside of jackets were clearly revealed, even the threads on a quilted bomber! Conceived with the Tokyo-based digital design firm Rhizomatiks, the film was possibly the first truly riveting one to watch. Not only was it presented as a runway event that we’re familiar with, it was edited in such a way as to truly allow the viewer to marvel. And, like an IRL fashion show, it has a finale!

That out of the ten Japanese designers who participated in PMFW this season, only one stood out, is as dismal as it is true that all joined as novices. They, like their European counterparts, are newcomers to this digital game. And all, as well as names from the largest luxury conglomerates, stepped out into the digital domain with less confidence and creativity than what we had positively hoped for. We understand it is difficult to create good content during a time as bad as the present. But would a blurry video with no meaning hold anyone’s attention if it were screened in front of an actual audience in, say, an auditorium? To be sure, the physical fashion show has to be on hiatus, but, in the mean time, do we need to watch videos that neither entertain nor enlighten? If designers want to make clothes that people want to wear, why shouldn’t they create videos that people want to watch? Fashion, now, more than ever, deserves better.


Two Of A Kind: Body Armour

One of these is 37 years late!

Tom Ford vs issey Miyake

(Left) Tom Ford’s breastplate. Photo: Alessandro Lucioni/Gorunway.com. (Right) Issey Miyake’s fibreglass bustier. Photo: National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia

We know which came first. But now, for most present-day fashion consumers, original ideas are so oft-repeated by others that the memory of those that came before the latter becomes hazy. The cover of the latest issue of Harper’s Bazaar features a square-jawed Gwyneth Paltrow in a Tom Ford top that the magazine described as “anatomical breastplate”. Which, we suppose, is the antithesis of what the Scorpion King wears—not body-regardful; no breast, no plate!

What’s interesting to us—actually, annoying—is that Miss Goop, who sells candles called This Smells Like My Vagina (seriously!), appears in Mr Ford’s hard top as if she is some high priestess of style, ahead of everyone else in adopting a cropped cuirass with asymmetric hemline as #OOTD, when she is not, and is really posing as Pepper Potts in an incomplete Iron Man Armor MK 1616 (later known as Rescue). Ms Paltrow may be a red carpet fave when it comes to award-night dressing, but she’s hardly a fashion leader in the same league as, say, actor-added-to-her-resume Lady Gaga.

768February issue of Harper’s Bazaar. Photo: Harper’s Bazaar

The remembrance certainty of our digital life perhaps does not go far back enough. In the subsequent media reports of Ms Paltrow’s “cyborg style”, nary a mention of one Japanese designer, who, back in 1980/81, created a bustier that at that time was inconceivable: it was made of fibreglass. Now a collectible and a museum exhibit, appearing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Masterworks: Unpacking Fashion; 2016/27), the Museum at FIT (Love and War: The Weaponized Woman; 2006), , and an unlikely National Gallery of Australia (museum collection), among others, as well as the 1983—1985 Issey Miyake travelling exhibition Bodyworks, in which it was a star attraction, together with another vest made of rattan by the Hayaman bamboo artist Kosuge Shochikudo..

Sure, breastplates were worn by men since Greco-Roman times, but for women that has this particular aesthetic and sheen, we credit only Issey Miyake. It is not clear if Mr Ford’s version is homage to one of the pioneer Japanese designers who showed in Paris in the ’70s/’80s or his very own idea (yes, hard to imagine), but it is rather puzzling that no one saw the similarly. If Ms Paltrow couldn’t see it, well, could we really blame her? She was eight when Mr Miyake thought of making a bustier with a peplum out of a synthetic polymer; she wouldn’t know what that is, or that clothes, like people, could be just as plastic.

Take A Bao

That single Bao is deliberate as Issey Miyake’s newest Prism Pouchette under the Bao Bao sub-brand is really half the size of its usual totes



By Emma Ng

No sooner had the must-visit Madstore vacated its spot in the pop-up-galore main atrium of ION Orchard, a new one, also by Club 21, instantly appeared. This time, it’s another Japanese name, also known for their alluring retail concepts: Issey Miyake’s Bao Bao in the form of the Cloud pop-up. According to Club 21’s media communique, the Bao Bao Cloud on our shores is the very first that has floated out of Japan.

Despite their ubiquity and the rampant copying, Issey Miyake’s 19-year-old Bao Bao has resisted blandness and repetition (and others being inspired by it), and survived road-side knock-offs, from Bangkok to Baguio to Bandung. The Cloud, which looks like a lab, showcases unambiguously that there’s still kick in one of the most recognisable and saleable bags in the world. Bao Bao’s latest is a little envelope of a bag that’s as capacious as the Fanny Pack, and called the Prism Pouchette. Perhaps, more importantly, it’s customisable—a ____________ By You moment.


Based on initial visuals of the bag, I didn’t expect that it’d be more interesting than the Prism Tote, but once up-close and personal (and after the explanation by the unenthusiastic staff, upon querying), it is, in fact, as desirable as the Pixel series, which, to me, is the most enticing in the brand’s entire line-up because of how it really expands on the original Bao Bao idea—at its most basic, is really geometry and mesh.

The Prism Pouchette comes in only one shape (oblong, north-south orientation) and one size, but is available in seven colours. You pick the colour of the pouchette that you like, add a bar (from a separate selection of 12 colours) that will be afixed at the opening, and you’d have yourself a nifty little colours-by-your-choice carrier that can be used as gender-neutral shoulder, cross-body, and hand bag. Neat indeed!

Issey Miyake Bao Bao Prism Pouchette, SGD360, is available at Bao Bao Cloud, level 1 Main Atrium, ION Orchard till 29 Nov 2019. Photos: Zhao Xiangji

Club 21 Shines Anew

Club 21 @ Siam Discovery

Singapore’s purveyor of fine fashion has opened a new store. It’s not somewhere on Orchard Road, as you might aspect; it is not even near there. In fact, it’s not at all on our island state. The new Club 21 is in Bangkok: a fashion god in the City of Angels.

This isn’t the Club 21 we know. This is big. Massive is no over statement. Housed in the newly refurbished Siam Discovery, two units away from Siam Paragon, diagonally across from Mahboonkrong Shopping Centre, the boutique-no-more Club 21 is so expansive you don’t know where it starts and where it ends. We’re not sure how big the space is, but it does appear to be at least twice the size of Club 21 men’s and the women’s store (at The Four Seasons hotel) combined. It’s discreet too—there is no marquee-style signage to tell you that you’ve walked into the Thai outpost of Singapore’s biggest upmarket multi-brand retailer.

Club 21 Women 1

And it’s somewhat confusing too. At first sight, you’d think that Siam Discovery, closed a year ago for the refurbishment, has turned the mall into a department store. And you won’t be wrong. As you enter from the Siam Center-facing access, the first thing that hits you is the duplex Issey Miyake store (here, it’s known by the somewhat grandiose “World of Issey Miyake”). Pass that and it gets a little disorientating, but that’s not a bad thing. There are only few shops—certainly not in the form of shop lots that made up the former Siam Discovery.

You will recognise the atrium as the old mall’s but that’s all you will make out. The space on the two sides of the first floor is now mostly opened up, un-demarcated by boundaries to contain brands. Yes, like a department store, but something tells you it is not quite. There are the labels: if you’re familiar with who carries what in Southeast Asia, you will immediately identify the curation (bad word choice, maybe, but fashion these days are picked and displayed with almost the same élan as the curatorial approach of an art gallery) as those typical of Club 21. The leaning to Japanese names—Sacai, Kolor, Y’s, Miharayasuhiro, etc—is clue enough.

Club 21 Women 2Club 21 Women 3

This, however familiar, is, at the same time, not entirely recognisable. This is too varied, and the variety is too interesting. When you move further inwards, it dawns on you that the scale and range may not be within the business plan of a foreign company known to be cautious in its expansion plans. If you look hard enough, you’ll see this it is not entirely Club 21. Price tags are a tell-tale sign—they use different ones. And some sections welcome the Club 21 loyalty card, some don’t. The guessing game becomes uninteresting as the merchandise seduces.

It is possible that the newness of the mall, so overwhelmingly fresh, overtakes one’s curiosity about proprietorship. Opened just last Saturday, the new Siam Discovery is the latest retail sensation that is transforming the area just beneath and around the Siam BTS station into a shopping hub Orchard Road should seriously study. When describing it as a sensation, we aren’t being glib. The mall is sensational and it arouses the senses. If shopping centres think taking on e-commerce is not possible, Siam Discovery is proof that reinventing the physical shopping experience is achievable. You start by providing stimuli from the environment.

Club 21 Women 4

Siam Piwat Co, owner and operator of the mall, calls the USD112-million born-again Siam Discovery the “biggest arena of lifestyle experiments”. Thai marketing lingo defies deciphering (and is often mostly grand-sounding), but, as pretentious as that is to the ear, this is quite a showground, and some of the brands in stock could be test merchandise. So many labels—more than 5,000 brands are said to be available—clearly fall under the radar that it is hard to see their overwhelming take-up rate.

Club 21’s stable of labels and some more dominate the first two floors. Until now a conservative retailer in terms of store planning, its gamble on Siam Discovery sees it in a space unlike any other, including its last swanky emporium, sited in a hard-to-locate corner of Kuala Lumpur’s Pavillion. Here, it’s rather like a grand magasin, but more in the vein of Lane Crawford than heritage stores such as Galeries Lafayette. The mix of brands and the juxtapositions in a playful setting are calculated to excite and, more importantly, surprise.

Club 21 Men 5Club 21 Men 4

Has Club 21 finally understood “experiential”, the much talked about requisite of social media-age brick-and-mortar retailing that’s rarely seen or felt on Orchard Road? Peddar on Scotts, opened in October last year, would be considered a pioneer in this area, but so far, none has taken their lead. Club 21 is on the right footing, but unfortunately, its well-shod feet are on another city’s welcome mat.

For too long, our favourite multi-label designer store has been languishing in its safe haven of quiet—far too quiet—elegance in the rear of Orchard Road. Despite talk that it is faring dismally and that young shoppers would not step into what they perceive as old and cold, they have persevered. Indeed, Club 21 has outlasted them all: Glamourette and Men and His Women, two of Singapore’s most distinguished but ultimately short-lived luxury retailers. In Bangkok, it has remained strong while even Hong Kong’s Club 21 equivalent, Joyce, had to make a hasty retreat in the wake of the Asian financial crisis of 1997, and, according, to reports, lost USD7 million as a result. But longevity sometimes encourages complacency and lack of innovation. Since its move into the Four Seasons Hotel in the mid-Nineties, Club 21 has looked mostly the same. Age, as many women know and will say, tends to make you look tired.

Club 21 Men 3

To be sure, it tried to do something different with the offspring Club 21B, started in 2011 as a remake of Blackjack, a store conceived in 1996 that targeted the young with a mix of street styles and edgy looks. However like its parent, Club21B’s store planning stands on conservative ground even when the merchandising does not. For some, its position at the back row of Forum The Shopping Mall, near the toilets, makes it a tad downbeat.

While Singapore has to contend with the Club 21 that we’ve always known, Bangkok has been seeing new stores and concept zones popping up. Its numerous corners and islands on the first floor of Paragon Department Store started three years ago were a foretaste of its stunning entrance in Siam Discovery today. Perhaps we can then be hopeful that the Club 21 that Bangkokians now find sanook, we, too, will be enjoying in the coming future.

Club 21 is at Siam Discovery, 989 Rama  I Road. Additional reporting: Tae Dee. Photos: Jagkrit Suwanmethanon

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

Is Nike Doing A Bao Bao?

Nike Blazer GeometricPhoto: Nike Sportswear via Instagram

This is a little unanticipated. Well, at least we’re not expecting it, not in 2015, not ever. If there’s going to be Bao Bao shoe (and why not?), we expect the house of Issey Miyake to release it, not Nike. Well, America’s largest shoe brand has beaten the Japanese at the latter’s own unique aesthetic. Perhaps it’s true: to flatter, one must emulate.

Nike’s Blazer Mid ‘Geometric’ was announced via Instagram a couple of days ago, and it sure made us gasp. Is this Nike’s New Year present to the world of fashion by taking a dip into the Bao Bao’s USP? We, too, wondered if it was meant to coincide with the launch of Bao Bao’s debut men’s line in Tokyo just last month. The ‘Geometric’ is too similar too Bao Bao’s to be comforting, especially the Platinum 1 series.

Bao Bao vs NikeLeft: Bao Bao’s new men’s C series ‘Weekender’ tote and, right: Nike Blazer Mid ‘Geometric’

To be fair, Nike’s isn’t entirely like Miyake’s iconic pattern. Well, they look alike, but it isn’t made the same way. Nike calls it “a molded TPU geometric pattern”. TPU, for those who would like know, is a hybrid material that’s part plastic, part silicone. So the entire shoe is made of this, with the geometric pattern as a surface texture. The Bao Bao’s, on the other hand, are small geometric shapes attached to a mesh fabric, which allows the sum material to be pliable.

In fact, such geometry was explored before by Nike. We saw it in last year’s Roshe Run, but somehow that looks less like Bao Bao than the current iteration even when we could see the similarity. The thing about this particular repeated pattern is, many of us are quite sick of it. Bao Bao has, perhaps, become a victim of its own massive success. Nike has come close to their heels a little too late. As one brand manager we know said, “Noticed I have not use my Bao Bao bags for a long time?” But for those whose footwear must match their carryalls, there’s now a shoe to go with your hoard of Bao Baos!

The Nike Blazer Mid ‘Geometric’ will be launched in limited quantities at selected global retailers in two weeks’ time. No news if any store in Singapore will carry it.