From Japan, Unpacking Miyake’​s Pleated Revolution

Hiroshima-born designer Issey Miyake has spent his career creating garments that challenge sizing conventions and are both practical and beautiful. A French reporter ponders his influence.

Miyake, turning the fashion world upside-down
Miyake, turning the fashion world upside-down
Caroline Rousseau

TOKYO â€" If he had been like everyone else, he might have called his exhibition The World of Issey Miyake. Instead, it's called The Work of Miyake Issey.

In refuting the term "retrospective" â€" too pretentious, too definitive, too focused on the past â€" the exhibition highlights not the brand's success, but rather, Miyake's lifetime quest. It's about the work of a man born in Hiroshima in 1938 and who, over the course of 45 years, put his fervent need to never look back, his innovation and his ingenuity at the service of the fashion industry.

On March 15, the day of the inauguration, the hall of Tokyo's National Art Center was densely crowded. An unusual group of people attended this equally unusual event: A few men looked stunning in pleated suits, while women wore Pleats Please tunics, especially those featuring sketches by graphic designer Ikko Tanaka (which were for sale at the end of the exhibit) or carried Bao Bao shopping bags. (One Aoyama boutique has a sign these days noting that no single customer can buy more than three copies of the Bao Bao, or two models in similar colors, because production cannot keep up with demand.)

Ron Arad, Jasper Morrison, Harri Koskinen, Tadao Ando, Ernst Gamperl, Andrew Bolton, and politician Jack Lang â€" who obtained a special dispensation to attend the event and elevate the visibly moved designer to the Legion of Honor with the rank of Commander â€" were all present. All had come to see the first major exhibit devoted entirely to Miyake, who is described in the latest edition of the illustrated dictionary Musée de la Mode as "very influential and part of Japan's fashion elite, like Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto."

The Francophile designer, who attended the The School of the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne and later worked for Hubert de Givenchy, is a creator in the true sense of the word, a doer, an inventor, a builder â€" and that's no easy task when one has chosen to work with raw materials such as cotton and polyester. Lang, a longtime friend of Miyake's, calls him "an architect of purity, a man humble and open to the world, whose immense body of work, at once ancient and futuristic, surprises and moves us. It combines sculpture with movement."

The meaning behind his unique work is palpable at this Roppongi district museum, which was designed by Kisho Kurokawa. The majestic structure in iron and glass has a rippling façade, and its high ceilings and 14,000 square meters of exhibition space led Miyake to think that if he were ever to organize his own exhibition, he would do it here, in this structured and airy shell: Like his clothes, it is wide enough not to constrict, and allows air to circulate.

Beyond taking in the powerful setup of the first two rooms and the hypnotic pleasure, in the third, of seeing the machine that produces a Pleats Please tunic in 15 minutes, visitors will be intrigued by the way this exhibition, which took seven years to install, was developed more to encourage and inspire than to celebrate the designer behind it.

What visitors are really looking for â€" and can find, if they pay close attention â€" is the drive that has pushed Miyake for all these years, his energy, vigor and desire to innovate. Those who aren't lucky enough to visit Tokyo can grasp this energy in a beautiful new book published by Taschen.

Miyake in Tokyo in March 2016 â€" Photo: Hsinhuei Chiou

"He didn't want to do a retrospective at all, because he hates looking back," says Midori Kitamura, president of Miyake's Design Studio, who has worked with the designer for 40 years. "And in fact, if you follow his gaze, you'll see his back, because he is always moving forward."

Through his research, Miyake made discoveries, both in terms of raw materials and of the final shape of his products. He used materials not typically associated with clothing, like plastics reinforced with fibers, but also washi (an artisanal Japanese paper), horsehair and raffia. He developed an infusion of synthetic resin to create a series of sculpted bustiers in 1980. In what was for him a gratifying game, the designer relied on shrewd calculations â€" a mix of mathematics and origami â€" to turn 2D designs into 3D garments. He could create a piece of clothing, or even an entire outfit, with a single swath of fabric. Once an idea took hold, Miyake would allow it to evolve slowly before unleashing it: he enhanced the beauty and texture of fabric, minimized waste and optimized comfort.

Creating a ubiquitous clothing style

Miyake conceived clothing as none before him ever did, by shattering the conventions of Western tailoring: He never cut or shortened a sleeve; instead, he devised a shape that an arm could naturally pass through. And at first, this shape confused viewers: Was it hard or soft? Composed of a single piece of fabric, or several?

"Making thing, making think," Miyake has often said, revealing an understanding of his job that is at odds with the prevailing trends, seasons and classic styles of women's clothing. He never thought about the body in terms of curves or size, but rather in terms of its fundamental need for freedom (of movement). He never ordered women to fit into a size 36 (roughly a U.S. size 4). Instead, Miyake's expertly cut fabrics would adapt to each woman wearing them, giving greater importance to people than to garments â€" although the designer's clothes, which were often colorful and playful, never failed to attract attention.

A single, worthy goal propelled Miyake's research: to create clothes as ubiquitous as jeans and T-shirts. If Americans were able to make that everyday style mainstream, what might a Japanese person come up with? What could real Japanese "casual wear" look like? The designer found the answer to this question in the pleats that he developed at the start of the 1990s.

He developed a technique and created a new style of beautiful utilitarian clothing, with garments that were original, resistant and practical, because they did not wrinkle, could be easily washed and did not require ironing. A suit jacket from Miyake’s Homme Plissé line costs about 320 euros in Japan (double that in France), does not need ironing, is available in black or navy blue, and transitions smoothly from the office to a friend's wedding. It's remarkable, and must still amuse the designer, though he has long since moved on.

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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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