An entire collection from one piece of cloth? Why Issey Miyake is one of fashion’s most gifted technicians

Story highlights

Japanese designer Issey Miyake's technology-driven clothes have been wowing the world for 45 years

An exhibition of his design over the decades has opened at the National Art Center in Tokyo

The 77-year-old tells CNN he is "far too busy" to retire

CNN  — 

This week, Japanese designer Issey Miyake is being honored for his enormous contributions to fashion over his highly successful 45-year career.

The French government awarded Miyake the Legion of Honor, its highest decoration, for his long influence on French fashion at a ceremony in Tokyo on March 15. The very next day, the 77-year-old’s design and technical innovation were celebrated at the opening of Miyake Issey Exhibition, at the city’s National Art Center.

Fashion designer Issey Miyake

In the lead-up to the exhibition’s opening, Miyake reflects on his storied past and shares his plans for the future.

CNN: What have been your most important influences throughout your career?

Issey Miyake: A few of the influences on my career so far have been Isamu Noguchi, Irving Penn, and seeing the riots of 1968 in Paris. Noguchi-san for his bridge between the East and the West; Penn’s images that were so strong and represented a completely different way of seeing; and realizing that the world was moving beyond the needs of haute couture for the few and toward simple more universal elements such as jeans and t-shirts.

How has technology shaped your design over the years, and how do you see it continuing to influence your label?

Technology allows us to do many things, but it is always important to combine it with traditional handcrafts, and in fact use technology to replicate dying arts so that they are not lost.

Issey Miyake (third from the right) with Kenzo Takada, Anne-Marie Beretta, Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, Chantal Thomass, Alix Gres, Yves Saint-Laurent, French Minister of Culture Jack Lang, Sonia Rykiel, Pierre Bergé and Emanuel Ungaro in 1984.

Technology is valuable in a world with diminishing resources in terms of lowering waste and facilitating mass production, but we can never lose sight of the power of the touch of human hands.

Can you shed some light on your concept of constructing garments with one piece of cloth?

My fascination has been the space between cloth and the body, and using a two-dimensional element to clothe a three-dimensional form. If you look back throughout history, from the ancient Egyptians onwards, most cultures started making clothing from a very basic premise: a single piece of cloth.

I wanted to take an element as simple as this and explore the possibilities using different handcrafts, fabrics and technologies.

Creations by Issey Miyake line a wall at the Miyake Issey Exhibition in Tokyo.

The exhibition at the National Art Center Tokyo is the most comprehensive look at your design and construction approach to date. What is it like seeing your career presented like this?

I like to assess every so often and explore different aspects of our work. This exhibition is an exploration of process focusing specifically on A-POC [an acronym for “a piece of cloth”], pleats and our current 132_5 brand.

The work that came before is to give a foundation and show evolution, but the focus is on our work going forward. I am not sentimental about the past. I like to think about what is next.

You founded the Reality Lab in 2007 to turn a focus to resource-conscious materials. What have been the key findings in your work in this lab? How can designers can be more environmentally friendly in their work?

There are many new advances including companies using recycled PET products to reduce waste. Designers must be increasingly sensitive to our Earth’s dwindling resources. It is our responsibility.

Miyake's design houses continue to produce exceptional clothing, as shown here at the Issey Miyake show finale at Paris Fashion Week, March 2016.

Looking ahead, what will you and your design studio be exploring in the future?

The Reality Lab and I will continue to explore new avenues. I will also be working on a major project that has been a focus of mine for several years now, which is the need to establish a national museum in Japan devoted entirely to design.

Design is a vital component to the enrichment of our everyday lives. Japan has a very rich history and culture of design, and I feel it is a very important dialogue to open and keep evolving.

Do you have any plans to retire?

Retire? Never! We are far too busy!

The Miyake Issey Exhibition: The Work of Miyake Issey is on at the National Art Center, Tokyo until June 13, 2016.