Living: The Man Who's Changing Clothes

Designer Issey Miyake makes fashion for tomorrow

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The only thing that confounds him is the expected. He loves old wristwatches and wears them with zest, even though he says, "I don't like the correct time." He cannot drive and declines to learn, for the simple reason that "I don't like anything where, if you turn right, you go right." He seems perpetually beguiled by byways and the wisdom of the wrong direction. When he makes his yearly round of visits to fabric makers, he will often tell them, "Show me your failures," because he can get fresh ideas, even inspiration, from them. It takes a very fleet eye to catch a surprise before it is forgotten as a mistake, and Miyake, ready for anything, can see it almost as it starts. Onozuka remembers once doing some larky variations on a woman's jacket. The garment was ultimately turned inside out and put back on the model. Miyake laughed, said, "This is how it should be," and left it like that. Says Onozuka: "That jacket sold immediately."

His personal life holds no such surprises. He is a major cultural celebrity on home turf, but he has not yet become so Westernized that his intimate life is common tender. He has kept company with the same woman for over a decade, which is not nearly so interesting as the fact that many people who know him, and her, know nothing of the relationship. He is abstemious about all matters of autobiography, and it is easy enough to credit his reserve. It may be, as he says, that "the question creative people all ask--What can we do?--changes tomorrow." For Miyake, every tomorrow is a gift. "I just wanted to do something to feel good," he says, "to do something better. I grew up in Hiroshima. I thought that was life."

"I always say that I was far away in the mountains when the bomb was ( dropped, but in fact I was not," says Miyake, who was riding his bicycle to school. "I saw it all with my eyes. I can remember it; I can remember what I did. I remember. But I thought I'd better forget." That would not be possible. "In my memory, it was terrible because I lost my mother and most of my family. I saw my mother, and half her body was burned. There was no penicillin or anything else. We had no medicine, so we put eggs on her."

She lived for four more years, teaching flower arrangement, teaching cooking, teaching the samisen. "Even burned, she continued to teach," her son says. "My father was a professional soldier, so my mother had to learn how to live without him if he were to die. My mother was great. I am very much weaker than she." Certainly she had always known how to adapt. When Miyake, 2, had nothing to wear to an autumn harvest celebration, she cut up festival flags and made him a suit. She insisted that he always go to school. If he had a fever, she would take him on a bicycle. "She never," he says, "gave me a chance to escape."

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