‘Issey Miyake’s clothes got me through lockdown. I will miss him’
Teo van den Broeke on why the death of the Japanese designer – the man who managed to make pleats cool – is a body blow to both him and the fashion industry
Tuesday 9 August 2022 By Teo van den Broeke
It’s no secret that the pandemic shifted the way in which we all dress in a relatively seismic fashion. Suits were swapped for sweatpants, stilettos were switched for sneakers, and collectively we descended on a slide made from jersey into quicksand crafted from polyblend as the interminable lockdowns took hold.
It was a state of affairs that I struggled to cope with at the time. Being a journalist at the coal face of men’s style, I found the ease with which we fell into comfort without a backward glance disturbing. My solution was to buy the most elegant clothing designed for ‘horizontal wear’ I could find. Those clothes came from Homme Plisse by Japanese designer Issey Miyake.
Miyake, who was born in Hiroshima and lived through the city’s bombing, died today from a rare form of liver cancer. He was 84. As famed for making Steve Jobs hundreds of black turtleneck sweaters as he was for his groundbreaking work in fabric development, when I read the news this morning I felt a jolt of sadness both in an abstract way – for the loss of a global creative force – but also in a personal sense, because I credit Miyake’s clothes as being one of the few things that helped me cope with the tumult of the past few years.
For those not inaugurated in the brilliance of Miyake’s clothes, his Homme Plisse line specialises in ultra-lightweight, wrinkle-resistant, sports-cum-tailoring wear, which can be worn as easily lounging around the house watching reruns of Bake Off as it can dressed up. Miyake trained under both Hubert de Givenchy and Geoffrey Beene, and the sartorial excellence of the former is as palpable in the cut of his shirts and trousers as the comfort-focused aesthetic of the latter.
The first item of Homme Plisse Issey Miyake I ever bought was a pair of midnight-blue pleated sweatpants, complete with a balloon-style leg and a neat pinch at the cuff. I’d seen fledgling menswear designer Ludovic de Saint Sernin wearing some in his studio in Paris during a fashion week presentation and I envied them. As I pulled on a pair in the brand’s Rue Royale store later that day, I was instantly taken with the way the fabric draped over my legs and the manner in which the pleating at the waist pulled in at my stomach. The trousers were both comfortable and flattering all at once, and I was smitten.
I could only afford one pair at the time, given that they came in at just over £300 (a lot to pay for sweatpants by any estimation). This was in 2018, and by the time lockdown rolled around a few years later I’d still not found the funds to invest in more. During 2020, however, I used all the money I wasn’t spending on going out to buy pin-sharp Homme Plisse suits (one in navy, another in black), a sunshine-yellow mandarin collar Homme Plisse jacket, several pleated tees in bone, and a midnight-blue pleated rain mac to match my sweatpants.
Even after lockdown was over and I started re-entering the world, I continued wearing the Homme Plisse pieces as part of my daily rotation. Teaming the sweatpants with smartly cut Brunello Cucinelli jackets and Tod’s driving shoes, wearing my mac with a classic blue suit and some chestnut monk-strap shoes, and schlumping around the house in my original sweatpants if ever my post-lockdown agoraphobia took hold.
That was the brilliance of Miyake. He understood the way people want to dress in all scenarios, work or play. His appreciation for the idiosyncrasies of the human body, the subtle ways in which it moves and the mode in which it wants to be draped made him a master of his craft. His clothes are never restrictive in cut, and the pleats – ironed into the fabric by way of a patented method – act as a frame for the torso, coddling it without cosseting. ‘I do not create a fashionable aesthetic,’ he famously once said. ‘I create a style based on life.’
Today, Miyake’s fans continue to be legion, but they also tend to be people ‘in the know’. Samuel Ross, the creative director and founder of cult British fashion brand A-Cold-Wall* wore an Homme Plisse suit to pick up his Emerging Menswear Designer Fashion Award in 2018, acclaimed fashion writer Tim Blanks wears Homme Plisse near exclusively, and actor Michael B Jordan has often been spotted in an Issey Miyake suit or two.
For me, though, Issey Miyake will always be the man who got me through lockdown in relative style. And for that I will be forever grateful. RIP Issey Miyake San.