Living: The Man Who's Changing Clothes

Designer Issey Miyake makes fashion for tomorrow

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The lines of the garments, the tones of the fabrics, the unstructured and unstrictured social attitudes implicit in both the making and the wearing of Miyake clothes are, altogether, something rather more than an alternative form of dressing. They are Japanese in origin, Western in spirit and, finally, universal not just in their impact but in the ravishing new images of the body they propose. These clothes taunt trend and defy style; they are not "fashion," except in its broadest generic definition. They are objects made by a designer who has the true spirit of an artist.

Robert Rauschenberg refers to Miyake easily as "an international artist, the most influential artist in Japan. He's supporting the whole of the artistic community." Miles Davis likes to remark that Miyake "designs the way I think about music," and, pressed a little on the subject, comes up with some elegant riffs about Miyake's work. "He has balance, composition; he's incredible with fabric. He is an artist, yes, more than a fashion designer. I'd like to buy all of his stuff and put it on the wall, to look at when I get depressed." Even among his designer peers, Miyake pulls top points. Giorgio Armani says flat out that "Miyake is a genius. In image, in approach, he goes beyond fashion."

Commerce, however, does not go begging. Miyake's designs for his men's and women's collections and for a couple of spin-off lines like the lively, lower- priced Plantation, as well as royalties from assorted licensees supervised by him, pull in upwards of $50 million yearly to the Miyake offices in Tokyo. Stateside his clothes are available in 15 specialty and department stores, including Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman-Marcus, and in many of the more adventurous boutiques. Manageably pricey in Japan, where most of them are made, the clothes get pretty dear after freight charges, duties and store markups are added for sale in other parts of the world (a fall coat, for example, made of wool and nylon mesh costs $955). Two pieces of advice in passing, then, to the intrepid and well-heeled consumer taking a maiden voyage into Miyake: the clothes, so unconstraining, can be addictive; and the name is pronounced Me-yah-kay. Ee-say Me-yah-kay.

Miyake's fall line, bursting with a full natural landscape of shades and shifting silhouettes, is moving briskly in the stores. His new spring collection, to be shown publicly for the first time in Paris on Oct. 19 and previewed exclusively here by TIME, is a meteor shower of radiant colors full of playful forms and unexpected but always amenable shapes. The new collection is also a solid demonstration of the amplitude of Miyake's gifts, of all the discipline, restlessness and romance of his free-ranging creative spirit. Challenge, whether in his native Japanese, his fluent French or his serviceable English, is a favorite word: he uses it as a prod, a goal, a signpost and an explanation. Fashion fits into his vocabulary only as a practicality. "The semantics aren't important," he explains. "But in Japanese, we have three words: yofuku, which means Western clothing; wafuku, which means Japanese clothing; and fuku, which means clothing. It can also mean good fortune, a kind of happiness. People ask me what I do. I don't say yofuku or wafuku. I say I make happiness."

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