Desperately trying to find some needed cash, see being poor and the hustle, I stumble upon an online article about a retrospect of Issey Miyake. Issey Miyake is one of the quintessential Japanese dssigners that came to define the fashion industry in the 1980’s and beyond. He was known for his unisex simplistic designs which transcend fashion, becoming instant design classics.
I am amazed and astounded that vintage Miyake is selling for thousands. I pull out a thick black cotton coat from my closet which is classic Miyake, purchased in 1995 in a consignment store in Seattle for less than one hundred dollars it is now a wise investment. The coat is a coarse black cotton weave sewn on the bias with unfinished frayed edges. When splayed out it is square in shape composed of two triangles of fabric. It is breathtaking once on. It’s weight and asymmetrical hang with low triangular shapes weighing down the front of the garment. It’s lines are completely simple with the secret being in the off center area that it is put on, not like the hole in,the middle of a poncho symmetry one normally finds in such a garment. It is unisex and one size indicative of early Miyake and other Japanese designers of the period such as Commes des Garçons and Yojhi Yamamoto. The top of the coat. Has three buttons which link a piece of fabric into a hood when buttoned. One can roll the hood or unbutton it for a wide collar or tweak it in various stages between for a bit of both should one desire.
I search for a similar coat for sale online and only find a photo. Other used Vintage Miyake coats are selling for upwards of one thousand dollars but none have the hang or lines that this particular design have. I find them either more tailored or less structure in line and drape. Definitely not as versatile in appearance or shape. In comparing the others just lie on the models while this style draws the eye to the structure and design to the geometry of the garment not the model.
I am taken back to my own sojourns to Tokyo during 1986, when my father, on foreign assignment with a major technology firm did a two year stint in their Asian headquarters. Frequenting Harajuku in the Omotosande area, where the Shinjuku and Shibiya subway lines intersect on Sundays I would see many coats like this as well as other styles similar from Rei Kawakubo of Commes des Garçons, Yohji Yamamoto, Kenzo Abe, or the multitude of rising star Japanese designers that were thrust into the fashion world that year.
Shopping the trendy retail outlets of the district one could find less known designers? Strolling alongside the streets there are squares of stalls selling vintage Levis, Hawaiian shirts, and other classics, ample distraction from the primary activity, people watching. The main thoroughfare around Yoyogi Park, closed to traffic, filed with a multitude of Japanese youth sporting mohawks, pompidours, pigtails, bouffants, wigs, or outlandish hats in every color gather with their respective cliques on parade and public display. The atmosphere is festive, non-traditional, and always fun in the frivolity of it all. Often found with a boom box blaring, the Harajuku kids’ music of choice whether it be Elvis, the Sex Pistols, or a more current (for the time) 80’s dance favorite leaves tradition behind forget the shamisen or flute. The youth congregate in circles along the wide boulevard representing their adopted look to a tee.
While budget and economics prevented many of these trendy outlandish mismatched Harajuku youth from sporting the latest in designer fashions, the established ready-to-wear Japanese fashion industry was well represented amongst the more mature spectators and somewhat more subdued cafe society which left the outdoor cafes and seating areas along the boulevard swelled beyond capacity. An acquaintence of mine commented that this form of expression in addition to getting inebriated while clubbing was her generations way of feeling free, and ultimately expressing their individuality in a culture that at the time offered little way to do so.
It seemed as if the world had taken notice of this particular moment in time and rendered it indicative of the Japanese youth culture for decades to come. Rock Stars turned designers like Gwen Stefani even naming clothing lines after the vibrant youth culture contained within the few square kilometers weekly. The designers of the time and present day were no doubt inspired by the creativity expressed in the streets within the confines of the structured and ordered group culture pervasive throughout the history of Japanese culture.
These bursts of vibrancy and brilliance so subtly woven into the design threads of the eighties designers and in part responsible for their tremendous embrace by the world and runways of Europe’s fashion capitols. One only need to look at the years following the Japanese designers successful debuts in these centers to see the influence on worldwide design which is evident even today. Designers like Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, Betsy Johnson, John Galliano, Christian LaCroix, and John Paul Gaultier found tremendous roots and structure in these well constructed simple geometrical foundations.
By accentuating with texture, color, pattern, accessories, the young designers of the fashion industry gave the looks depth, fun, whimsy and bridged a gap towards the Harajuku look seen weekly. Garters, petticoats, frilly ruffles and bustles brought an element of sweet confectionary coyness to the sometimes stark pieces that still appear in fashion and film today. One only need look at the aesthetic in such films as the Hunger Games series, or The Harry Potter films, to notice the staying power of the designers influence and its power in the garment industry as well as popular culture at large.
Modeling my black Miyake coat while giving thought to this, all the while enjoying the garment gave me pause to think of the coat as sort of a matriarch of design, the wise crone cloistered over her cauldron, cloaked, stirring a simmering brew adding roots, barks, and herbs yielding brews of varying thickness, sweetness and hues to be dispensed to her progeny. The tonics for beauty, humor, romance, youth. Dyes for wardrobes as varied as the wearer. All worn and traced to her quiet, understated knowledge and subconscious grasp of foundations solid and sturdy. Her male counterpart a Merlin figure, a hermit figure imparting the same alchemical melange less simmered and more mercurial wearing the same elemental garment.
Twirling a few times the coat with its front triangular asymmetrical corners on each side magically lift and thrust around gently guiding the less weighted section of the backside giving lift. I conjure dervishes whirling into a trancelike state, skirts ballooning out like bulbous bell shaped vessels. As I move, even without a twirl the garment moves to counter balance my own movement providing an almost pendulum like affect from the swing of the weighted front corners fluidly gliding with each stride. What the photographers and critics must have thought with the first glimpse of such synchronized movement in a runway show.
Now while searching such terms “Issey Miyake + vintage coat + resale value” my browser, I find a plethora of exhibits in both large and small, in public and private galleries lauding the designers, especially Miyake for their vision of simple geometrical unisex constructions that formed amazing garments to which there have been few other examples of since. Permanent exhibitions in museums from New York to London tout all things from the period by this vanguard of design Titans from clothing, to lighting, to such now ubiquitous furnishings such as the futon. All of it showcased in a minimal sparse monochromatic environment now the norm in retail and advertising. Designed to showcase the simplistic, sophisticated, quality of design, construction, and organic materials echoed in form, function, and aesthetic. Pieces from this place and period need no model, styling, props., or staging to emphasize what obviously stand alone as classics in all areas of design.
In awe of the coat which has held not only its pared down elegant characteristics after nearly 30 years in a closet, but retained its confounding beauty as well as value on sites such as Etsy, eBay, and 1stDibs commanding bids of thousands of dollars. This in an industry where most design pieces from the periodare doomed to be labelled out of style in a few short seasons. Remember the block print oversized day glow, Wham! Frankie says tees, trotted out as a novelty for a themed flashback fete. How about the 80’s shoulder pads in nearly every dress blouse or jacket, at best deemed retro a generation later- or Members Only jackets. Other fashions of the period seen as an example of an individual designer’s body of work- Bob Mackie’s extravagant Academy Award gowns popularized by Cher. These pieces go far beyond the scope of the majority of fashion over a season or two past into the stratosphere of art, marking the birth of new avenues which the industry has explored and continues to embrace.
Few designers or periods render such treasures that when removed from the dry cleaner bag and inspected or put on, whether on dress form, model, or self, inspire awe, and admiration in new ways without the construct or thoughts of era, year, age, or regret of decision to purchase. The Little Black Dress by Coco Chanel, as well as the Chanel Suit , Levis 501’s, Converse HiTops, Keds, Brooks Brothers Oxford Shirts, all of these essential classics spawning decades of variations, subclassifcations, retail outlets, and even designers dedicated to their form exclusively. Yet something in these Japanese designs nearly transcends these fashion staples. As awe inspiring on a hanger or laid out splayed on a flat surface one appreciates the simplistic form and minimal construction which almost have a life of their own ready to leap off the one dimensional plane with form to guide and give them essence.
These designs are alive without model, albeit in a altogether unique appearance than that when worn. The Miyake, when flat appears to be a near perfect square, but lacking the congruency found in a poncho if laid in a similar fashion. It appears as if something lies under it waiting to grow thru, Jack’s magic beanstalk sprouting up. The paring down of the most basic of shapes, rudimentary fabrics often coarse lay woven, sewn without frills or extra stitching, basic slit pockets, simple geometrical shapes when pieced to pattern, each step elementary in its origin yielding something magical, complex, with a form entirely and stylistically new. The genius of these handful of Japanese visionaries recognized by the likes of Steve Jobs, who wore Miyake with Levi’s nearly everyday while the Zen Guru of Apple, Annie Leibowitz- photographer artist extraordinaire to name a few. I bow deeply to thee as the unfinished fringe of the front lines rustle softly over the hardwood floor. Arigato Gozaiamatshushita….