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004: Issey Miyake
L'Eau D'Issey photographed by Irving Penn; Issey Miyake Spring 1999
My first encounter with Issey Miyake was on the cusp of adolescence. I was living in Dhaka at the time and a new store had opened, then too far ahead of its time. This was Dhaka in the early 2000s, when not much was available in terms of foreign goods and the mysterious Benetton that stood across the road from our apartment since the early 90s had shuttered. The store housed the kind of clothing, accessories and cosmetics you couldn't help but run your hands over and quietly digest the excitement of the newness of things. This was where I first met Issey Miyake.
High up on a beautiful wall of fragrances were storied bottles of Chanel and Dior, Paco Rabbane's ultraviolet orb and the teenage dream of sensuality by Hugo Boss, but the first to catch my eye was a sleek conical glass bottle with a clear crystal ball at its very top – L'Eau D'Issey. Miyake would say that the bottle's design was inspired by the sight of a full moon rising behind the Eiffel Tower. The first time I passed it I was afraid to touch it, to discover its scent. Too often I begged my parents to take me to this store just so I could contemplate this bottle of perfume. It was so minimal in contrast to everything else around it, as if it wanted to remain a secret, and till then I had never heard of Issey Miyake. The first time I took in its scent, it was imperative that I have it.
I alone couldn't possess it; I had not yet reached the maturity and reserve it took to wear it, but I had decided that if there were anyone worthy of it, that person was my mother. To me she was elegant and poised. Each morning she put thought into what she would wear to work, shalwar kameezes and saris (cotton in the summer, crepe silk in the winter), and she was important enough to be in places devoid of the odor of puberty. I scrounged together whatever I had saved over the years – birthday money from my grandparents, earnings from the summer I had deceived my parents into paying me for household chores – and on my mother's birthday, some ten years after the fragrance had originally been released, still dressed in my drab school uniform, I bought my first Issey Miyake.
When my mother wore a scent, she committed herself to it from beginning to end, and for the next few months she spritzed herself daily in L'Eau D'Issey, once on the wrist, just behind the nook of her ear, and the nape of her neck. As my mother bolted out the door each morning, she left behind her a trail of lotus and amber seed and freesia which hung in the air all day long in the thick of Dhaka's late summer. If you're wondering whether I ever allowed myself even a single spray, I never dared to. When my mother finished the very last drop of Issey's water, I suggested she buy another, but she was ready for something new. I was crushed.
For over a decade I wouldn't know of Issey Miyake beyond this fragrance until the first summer I moved to New York, the first time I passed the Pleats Please store on the corner of Prince. For five days a week for a week, I would walk past the store on my way to training for a job I had just been offered, slowing down to take in all that I could through the windows. I was too intimidated to enter the store; I hadn't the surety to fortify myself yet, but what an introduction to the wondrous world of Issey Miyake it was. I began to notice the young women who rode the C and the L, in from California to test the waters for a year, who toted their pleated pochettes downtown. I would try not to stare too overtly at older women and their prismatic Bao Bao bags as I walked past them on my way to doctor's appointments on the Upper East Side. Anyone who was someone had at least one pair of pleats which they wore on sweltering New York nights – if they owned a whole set it meant it was inherited from their mother, who was dear friends with a painter or sculptor of renown. New York was where my education in Issey took root.
Recently, a note I made on Issey Miyake: There are no other clothes quite as architectural and permissive of play, like beautiful sculptures you are encouraged to touch, feel, investigate and find yourself within.
After coming across a top gradating from lavender to aqua then deep blue and an ankle-length satsuma orange skirt: a psychedelic sunset.
A few years ago I bought my first Issey Miyake piece, one that was entirely mine: a second-hand buttery-yellow pleated top which fell smoothly along my contours. What had motivated that purchase? I had not worn yellow since I was a child, and perhaps its sweet cheeriness provoked something within me. Perhaps I wanted to return to that lightness of being a child. I wore it with loose navy flared trousers and lucite wedges and felt at once elementary and adult. The first and only brand new piece I purchased was an electric pink plissé skirt. Once again, it was unlike anything I had ever owned, to choose exuberance in such a deliberate way. What I have loved most about Issey Miyake – the artist, the label, the concept, the way of being – has been permission to explore the fantastical sides of ourselves, to experience the purest essence of youth at any age without ever feeling contrived, and the insistence that you allow yourself to take center stage.
In an interview from 2019, Miyake was asked, "Can clothes change us?" To this he replied, "Design has the power to change lives by enhancing them, offering solutions to contemporary problems, and bringing joy." Issey Miyake's clothes invite the wearer to submit to play, find bodily acceptance between each fold, come as you are, there's plenty of room for everyone. Each piece is transformed and brought to life by the wearer in a perfect complement without ever overwhelming or distracting. No two individuals will ever look alike, because Miyake's designs have the rare capacity to embrace each body it adorns to take on the wearer's unique form. A man who shied away from being identified as a "fashion designer" for the industry's limitations and inaccessibility, his approach to design was distinctly egalitarian: there was always something for anyone who sought out Issey Miyake. Issey is for you and me and us if you permit yourself the belief of its possibility.