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A forthcoming exhibition at Issey Miyake’s 21-21 Design Sight museum in Tokyo questions the future of manufacturing through innovative origami-style objects that magically morph into dresses, handbags and lanterns.


Issey Miyake is well known as an innovative Japanese fashion designer, creating striking clothes by fusing the latest technology with traditional craftsmanship. What is less well known is the extensive experimentation in production which he undertakes and which he showcases at 21_21 Design Sight, the Tokyo design museum he founded in 2007.

Reality Lab is the latest exhibition at Design Sight. Curated by Mr. Miyake, its name is taken from the Issey Miyake research and development team of eight headed by Miyake, Manabu Kikuchi (a textile engineer) and Sachiko Yamamoto (a pattern engineer), who investigate the future of making things. On show is a range of products, from clothing to industrial objects, most of which are meticulously constructed in an origami-style pattern: a seemingly flat piece of folded fabric unravels to reveal a structured dress in a movement that recalls the famous Hussein Chalayan coffee-table-cum-dress; other one-dimensional objects morph into handbags; a highlight is the magnificent lighting, which pop up to become Isamu Noguchi-like lanterns.

As miraculous as many of the objects on show are, there is more to the Reality Lab exhibition than simply showcasing innovative and cutting edge design. Miyake is deeply concerned about the future of manufacturing, particularly in Japan. “The production centers in Japan are well known for their pursuit of making things using superb skills, wisdom and passion,” he explains. “However, they are now facing an unprecedented situation with talent being drained away and factories closing down. This is a critical stage where we must focus upon this grave situation and think seriously about the future of making things.” According to Miyake, that future involves pop-up products that are as beautiful as they are meticulously crafted.

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“How do we resuscitate the art of making things? The spirit that inspires people in the same way as it did during the era when individuals and companies alike showed enthusiasm and found great joy and pride in the quality and beauty of their work? I want everybody to start to think about the meaning and significance of rejuvenation and re-creation: design activities that create “reality” and through this exhibition, begin to share some of Japan’s thoughts on the topics with the rest of the world.”

- Issey Miyake

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On his inspiration:
As a result of bearing witness to the “May 1968” Revolution in Paris, I had a revelation that
changed my vision of clothes making, forever. I realized that clothing, from here on, needed to
appeal to a wider audience than that of yesterday’s haute couture. I knew I needed to find ways by
which to create clothing that would be integral to people’s lives and be designed to suit their life-
styles. I have been designing since the 1970s, showing my collections in Paris, each another step
along the path to my goal.

On Pleats Please:
Pleats Please was born out of the research and development of pleats that I started in 1988. In
1998, Dai Fujiwara (creative director of ISSEY MIYAKE since 2007/2008 Autumn/Winter Collec-
tion), and I presented yet another evolution of my touchstone, called “A-POC” A Piece of Cloth.
In 1999, I turned the design of the collection over to Naoki Takizawa (from the 2000
Spring/Summer Collection). Since then, I have remained active in the design scene, staying involved
with A-POC while maintaining an ongoing work-based dialogue with small groups, or sometimes
even one-on-one, with the younger members of the ISSEY MIYAKE team.

On his design museum:
In 2003 an essay, I wrote entitled “Time to Create a Design Museum”, that was published in a Japa-
nese newspaper. The response and support was immediate and as a result, we began to work with
renowned architect Tadao Ando to create 21_21 DESIGN SIGHT, which is located in Tokyo Midtown. Each project initiated by 21_21 DESIGN SIGHT offers an opportunity for us me, along with
21_21 Directors Taku Satoh and Naoto Fukasawa to join hands and minds with people from every
area of design to explore the future and potential of the field. As a result, I am even more fervently
convinced of the importance of considering social issues that are relevant to or impact on our work.

On skills:
It goes without saying that our clothing has to be relevant, but the problems that modern society
faces are more complex than ever. Not only are there environmental issues and dwindling resources,
but there is also the danger of our losing our most valuable resource: human skill. There is an
urgency and necessity to start training people who are capable of tackling a variety of problems. In
2007, I directed an exhibition at 21_21 DESIGN SIGHT entitled “XXIst Century Man” in which we
referred to a book written by a planetary physicist about the history of the earth to present, as well
as that of mankind. As a result, my sense of urgency that we must do something to save our
resources, human and natural, has become even stronger.

On Japanese craftsmanship:
Japan has an unrivaled history of skills and knowledge in matters of “making things”, yet those very qualities are endangered. Modern circumstances prevent locales committed to production and talented human resources from practicing their skills and passing them on to new generations. Designers must not think egotistically about future trends but should consider the problem that is here, now. We cannot afford to look at this problem as leisurely spectators, as though it does not affect us.

On the future of Japanese industry:
The production centers in Japan are well-known for their pursuit of making things using superb skills, wisdom and passion. However, they are now facing an unprecedented situation with talent being drained away and factories closing down. This is a critical stage where we must focus upon this grave situation and think seriously about the future of making things.

On his future projects:
My hope is that, by encouraging new design and creation, there will be a means to move towards a
new era in which people and companies will feel needed and in the process, rediscover the energy and
sense of pride in their work that goes along with it. I am stepping up my visits to our affiliated produc-
tion plants and partner companies taking the younger teams from the Miyake Design Studio with me
to start a new dialogue. 132 5. ISSEY MIYAKE comes partly as a result of the, I hope, ongoing
dialogue that has been opened. The keywords to this project are “recycling” and “regeneration”. It is
a line that will be comprised of clothes and other products that utilize the features of recycled fibers

More info:

Reality Lab runs from November 16 to December 26 at 21_21 Design Sight, Tokyo.
www.2121designsight.jp/en/

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