Issey Miyake, who died last week in Tokyo at the age of 84, was without question the sweetest designer I have ever interviewed.
It was 1994 and I was working for the Toronto Star when I met him in his Paris office overlooking the exquisite Place des Vosges. The occasion was the launch of his first fragrance, L’Eau D’Issey, which went on to win multiple awards and become an international bestseller.
As I wrote then, I was struck by his lack of pretension, his simple, cluttered desk, his twinkling eyes, his warm smile.
He had every reason to be bitter and angry. He was a seven-year-old boy riding his bicycle in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb fell. It left him with a pronounced limp and, no doubt, profound invisible scars. His mother died three years later from the radiation. But unlike other designers whose life challenges have led to self-medicating, suicide or a narcissistic need for attention (or a combo of the three), Miyake seemed happy, serene even. And that joy was translated into clothing that bounced and billowed, expanded and contracted, and seemed endlessly charming and entertaining and…yet…comfortable, as anyone who has worn pieces from his Pleats Please line knows. In 2007, he stepped back to create a textile innovation lab with a focus on sustainability, more evidence of his lack of need for the limelight and public adoration.
We saw him as a visionary, a ground-breaking talent whose innovations were celebrated in museum exhibits and worn by some of the greatest musicians, writers and contemporary artists of the 20th century. Miyake saw himself as a man who simply liked to sculpt with cloth.
Having witnessed the worst, he seemed determined to find beauty wherever he looked. During our interview he suddenly stopped mid-sentence and began staring at the shadows on the wall. “Look,” he said. “The light.” I remember the moment so clearly, and how it captured the essence of his artistic core. RIP Miyake-san. Though it seems you had found peace already in your time on earth.