‘It became a mainstay’: how Issey Miyake helped define Melbourne’s style | australian fashion

On evening of Melbourne Design Week, I was drinking hot prosecco in a dimly lit third-floor office overlooking Russell Street in the city centre. A friend had asked me to accompany her to the opening of the exhibition held there. Of course, the office belonged to an architectural firm.

The crowd was elegant in a typical Melbourne fashion. There were black-rimmed glasses, workmen’s jackets, and designer sneakers in every corner. But as I scanned the photographers and brand managers present, I realized that at least half the room bore the floating, sculptural figures of Issey Miyake, easily recognizable by the tiny, perfect creases that somehow on the other, give shape and also remove it.

Miyake passed away this week at the age of 84, leaving behind a tremendous legacy. He founded his studio in the early 1970s and was one of the first Japanese designers to present collections in Paris. He began experimenting with pleating in the late 1980s, eventually patenting the hot pressing technique that created permanent pleats in polyester in 1993.

A model wears Issey Miyake from Melbourne boutique Shifting Worlds during Melbourne <a class=Fashion Week 2019.” data-src=”https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/65e3034f2fc57ad7ba1a675de0dcba759e36ba33/0_0_2533_3800/master/2533.jpg?width=620&quality=85&fit=max&s=1ef8d6f572fd944abf018b3ae0c63ce2″ height=”3800″ width=”2533″ loading=”lazy” class=”dcr-4zleql”/>
A model wears Issey Miyake from Melbourne boutique Shifting Worlds during Melbourne Fashion Week 2019. Photography: Mackenzie Sweetnam/WireImage
An Issey Miyake design from Shifting Worlds. Photography: Mackenzie Sweetnam/WireImage

This formed the basis of Pleats Please, arguably her most recognizable clothing line, with its slightly tapered pants, tops with the shoulder and sleeve rounded into one, and straight, calf-length, billowing dresses. This look, often accessorized with her signature Bao Bao bag, has become synonymous with Melbourne style (down to the occasional parody).

That each shape can be worn with something sporty like a sneaker, or something delicate like a strappy sandal, is a credit to the joy, universality, and freedom that Miyake has purposefully imbued into his garments.

Nayna carrying her Issey Miyake Bao Bao bag at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Nayna carrying her Issey Miyake Bao Bao bag at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Photography: @naynav / Instagram

Robyn Healy, professor of fashion design at RMIT University, explains that this fluidity is why her designs have been part of Melbourne’s fashion culture since the early 1980s. were not based on European traditions of tailoring, gender or alignment of seasons appealed to Melburnians,” she says. Contrary to the body-consciousness one might generally associate with Australian style, people in the country’s self-proclaimed cultural capital “were drawn to clothes that draped, wrapped or hung around the body”.

Shifting Worlds staff member Su wearing Issey Miyake Pleats Please pants in the workshop.
Shifting Worlds staff member Su wears Issey Miyake Pleats Please trousers in the Melbourne atelier. Photography: Changing Worlds

Lucinia Pinto wore Issey Miyake in several boutiques she owned across the city from the 1970s to the early 2000s. She is convinced his designs influenced the way Melburnians dress. “The garments appealed to people who appreciated art…So they became a mainstay of architects in Melbourne, for example, who loved the detailed construction and cut.”

In 1997 she collaborated with Miyake to open Australia’s first and only Issey Miyake store in South Yarra. She describes it as a vaulted space, made up of lime green wall panels and white vinyl flooring. “It was the perfect backdrop for her work which was a mix of tailored and pleated items, many of which were Melbourne black, but others in electrifying colours.”

Five years later, Pinto has closed all of its shops, making Miyake harder to find for Melbourne’s creative class – at least until the advent of online shopping.

Now, two decades later, the soft shapes and amorphous hems are available at Shifting Worlds on Elizabeth Street. Store owner Maya Webb attests to the longevity of the clothes – some of her customers still have Miyake pieces they bought from Pinto in the 1990s. “The Miyake designs seem to be curated in a way that others brands are not,” she says.

A Melbourne Fashion Festival attendee wears an outfit by local brand Gorman in a style reminiscent of Issey Miyake's designs.  (Photo by Naomi Rahim/WireImage)
A Melbourne Fashion Festival attendee wears an outfit by local brand Gorman in a style reminiscent of Issey Miyake’s designs. Photography: Naomi Rahim/WireImage

She believes Melburnians love Miyake because “it fits so well into a ‘casual luxury’ category” that suits a town defined by its culture, not its beaches.

Pinto describes Miyake’s work as “a joyous, sculptural ‘dance’ of fabric to associate with the human form”. Fashion that lies in the connection between construction and art has had a lasting impact on local designers. From the gathers and necklines of Permanent Vacation to the drape and shape of Alpha60, Miyake’s influence is evident.

Alpha60 Creative Director Georgie Cleary says, “He’s managed to combine art, fashion and innovation so seamlessly in his designs, and it’s something we continually strive for.”

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