The Art of the Fold

The fashion designer Issey Miyake continues his career-long fascination with the essence of clothes.

How, one might ask, did Issey Miyake—a designer who set out in the late 1960s to create clothes as “democratic” as jeans and a T-shirt—arrive at a collection like 132 5.? The wildly faceted dresses, shirts, skirts, jackets, and bags released last September are anything but basic. It takes a complex, computer-driven algorithm to design the garments, which fold into flat geometric shapes. But to anyone who has followed Miyake’s career, the connection with his earlier work is clearly evident.

From the outset, Miyake aimed to reinvent the way we make clothes, coaxing shapes from a single piece of cloth. “It’s the simplest solution
to wrapping a three-dimensional form with a two-dimensional material,” he explains. “The breakthrough in my experiments came in 1993 with Pleats Please.” By heat-setting pleats into loosely constructed polyester garments, he produced designs that were extremely lightweight, easy to move in, universally flattering, and virtually impossible to mess up (they were already wrinkled). The A-POC line from 1998 took the idea further, employing digital technology to knit a tube from which customers could cut and customize an outfit.

132 5. is Miyake’s purest exercise yet in using just one piece of fabric. But it began with a social agenda: if Pleats Please made polyester chic, then 132 5. would take responsibility for the material’s environmental toll. “We used to have to pay to get materials,” Miyake says. “In the twenty-first century, we will have to pay to get rid of them.”

He approached the Osaka-based company Teijin Fibers about making polyester from PET drinking bottles. “They told me that it costs much more than making the fiber from oil, but I said, ‘We need to do it.’” After 18 months of collaboration, Teijin arrived at a process for recycling PET that reduced carbon emissions by 80 percent compared to traditional polyester production.

Last June, Miyake’s R & D team, Reality Lab, was charged with finding a way to put the PET fabric to use. “We tried to make folds by ourselves and had several designs with many mistakes, but we couldn’t get beyond that,” Miyake says. The answer came, via the Internet, when a team member discovered the experiments of a University of Tsukuba professor, Jun Mitani, who created curved origami forms using an algorithm. “My application develops the 3-D model and the 2-D pattern at the same time,” Mitani explains. The team settled on ten patterns that would lend themselves to clothing shapes, artfully adding fold-and-cut lines to come up with the first 30 pieces in the collection. The process yields virtually no waste, and the results are far more complex than anything Miyake was able to create with Pleats Please or A-POC. What’s more, next month Miyake will release a folding lamp using the same technique.

“The flattened patterns do not look wearable even to me,” Mitani says. “I think this is Miyake’s magic.” Employees who have tried out items
from the collection claim that the pieces in 132 5., like all Miyake clothes, are utterly wearable—as comfortable as jeans and a T-shirt.

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