Interview: technological innovation is driving increasingly experimental fashion design at Issey Miyake according to the Japanese brand's womenswear creative director, who has developed a new technique for folding fabric into origami-like patterns (+ movie).
"Technology has been hugely influential on the fashion industry all across the world," said Yoshiyuki Miyamae, who took over as head of womenswear at Issey Miyake in 2011 after working with the brand for ten years.
The 38-year-old designer's most recent application of technology is the creation of a new type of fabric that contracts into rigid structures when exposed to steam, called 3D Stretch Seam.
Computer software is used to calculate the composition of different cotton and polyester weaves, which react to the steam and turn into three-dimensional patterns that are first tested as paper prototypes.
"It looks like origami but it's folded by steam, not by hand," said Miyamae. "It's not created by a mould or pre-formed or anything, everything is woven from scratch – from yarn into fabric."
3D Steam Stretch fabric, which has been tested to prove that it withstands constant wear and washing, is used for garments in Issey Miyake's Spring Summer 2015 womenswear collection shown during Paris fashion week in September.
These are a step on from linear textile patterns created using the same technology that took three years to develop, which were first shown the season before.
"This technology could also be used in other industries," Miyamae said. "We're thinking about the possibilities of applying it into interior design, or products or architecture. In a couple of years we could come up with some amazing interior products."
"We want to keep our position as an innovative company among the fashion brands in the world," Miyamae said. "There are so many clothing brands nowadays, so readily available. We want to tell everyone that we take importance in being innovative with technology and coming up with new ideas from it."
Read an edited transcript of the interview with Yoshiyuki Miyamae, who spoke to Dezeen through a translator:
Dan Howarth: What is the new technology you've developed for your latest collection?
Yoshiyuki Miyamae: We call this 3D Steam Stretch, it's a special product for Issey Miyake. Everything is woven. It looks like origami but it's folded by steam, not by hand. It's not created by a mould or pre-formed or anything, everything is woven from scratch – from yarn into fabric.
For Issey Miyake it's always been design at the core, creating a garment from a piece of yarn into fabric. This time the theme is developed into the idea that it's to do with creasing the fabric and folding the fabric, so that's why these things are born out of the concept.
Dan Howarth: What type of yarn have you used?
Yoshiyuki Miyamae: It's a yarn the same as you would find anywhere in the world, mainly polyester and cotton – ordinary materials. But the different thing about this Issey Miyake technology is that it was quite hard to program how precisely you can make these patterns. It's all done using computer programs, so that's the difference. Making standard material into something quite innovative.
To get to this point took us more than three years to come up with and perfect this technology. That was difficult for us.
Dan Howarth: How does the technology work?
Yoshiyuki Miyamae: Let me quickly talk about the latest concept before we get into the technology. It's called Windscape, this latest collection. I was inspired by the natural patterns that winds create. It could be about the shape of clouds, a sand dune changing shape, maybe the ripples on the surface of the water. It's also to do with lightness. I wanted to express the lightness of those phenomena and translate them to the clothes.
We created paper prototypes of the shapes. We tried many patterns including squares and triangles. We usually tend to work like that and to make one paper prototype takes about a day to make it work. The way I came to this point is through endless research and experimenting at the paper stage and gradually translating it into fabric.
Dan Howarth: Issey Miyake is famous for pleats. How did that research inform this?
Yoshiyuki Miyamae: As you can imagine, not only is it just about standard fashion practice, it's more about technology and mathematical ideas that have to go into it. I feel really grateful that because at Issey Miyake it's already been established, all the high-end technology to create pleats on the fabric. I owe the company a lot to get to this point and perfect this very complex process into a new development.
On top of this pleating technology, I don't know whether you're familiar with the other side of Issey Miyake's technology, which is called A-POC – A Piece of Cloth – which we've developed as a collaboration with outsourced factories and people. These two technologies that are already established at Issey Miyake were combined to get to this.
Dan Howarth: How do you transfer these ideas and techniques into the garments?
Yoshiyuki Miyamae: It's extremely complicated! One of the things that we always bear in mind is the possibility of working together as a team. Working as a team we have to understand what each of us is doing, who is a specialist in which field in terms of process and garment making. Usually it tends to be that when a designer like myself comes up with an idea of clothes, what we do is start to outsource fabrics then bring them into the company to cut and develop it.
At Issey Miyake we all start from scratch, so a bunch of really talented designers, pattern cutters, as well as technology-based people and textile specialists always have to get together. We experiment together on various things to get to this. In a way, the end product tends to be something that everyone is happy with. It takes longer, but that's how we always work.
We want to keep our position as an innovative company among the fashion brands in the world. There are so many clothing brands nowadays, so readily available. We want to tell everyone that we take importance in being innovative with technology and coming up with new ideas from it. That goes all the way across the Issey Miyake brand, not just what I do for womenswear but also for menswear and bags, and everything else.
Dan Howarth: Do you think technology is crucial in staying a step ahead of competitor brands?
Yoshiyuki Miyamae: It's not so much that I'm consciously competing with other brands, but for me it's very important to realise how great the heritage in technology we have at Issey Miyake is. Issey Miyake himself has always been very active at coming up with these ideas for the last 40 years and I feel very privileged to be part of the team there. It's not deliberate competing as a fashion brand.
Dan Howarth: How does digital software impact your design process?
Yoshiyuki Miyamae: Obviously because I'm from the generation where digital software and computer technology is readily available, from that point of view I'm not too conscious that we have to put importance onto the usage of digital software as such. For us, anything available nowadays like a personal computer or weaving machine are part of tools that bring ideas into reality. Myself and Issey Miyake always feel very appreciative that those technologies are available for us, but at the same time we put importance on ideas. It's very important to keep the balance between using digital software and those more manual techniques.
Dan Howarth: Is technology changing and transforming the fashion industry?
Yoshiyuki Miyamae: Technology has been hugely influential on the fashion industry all across the world. Not only at our office, but for everyone. I'm always aware that we have to strike a balance between the improvement and usage of technology with what we do. We shouldn't forget about the more basic things. At the end of the day, clothes are for human beings to wear. So we have to feel the texture and like it, and we have to feel comfortable wearing them. For example, I'm interested in the arrival of 3D printers. Maybe one day soon, you'll be able to go travelling and press a button so clothes come out and be available for you. That kind of convenience is important and I'm interested in it. However, it's more important for me to go back to basics and make sure that we make clothes that everyone can enjoy. Touching and feeling are very basic human senses so that's very important for me.
Dan Howarth: Have you experimented with 3D printing at Issey Miyake?
Yoshiyuki Miyamae: It's still research. 3D printers still have a huge restriction with materials, which tend to be hard and uncomfortable to wear. I think that through our research, some day we can come up with something satisfactory and wearable. But at the moment we would come up with accessories like shoes, because that would be easier because of the nature of what a 3D printer can produce. We are thinking about it and researching it.
Dan Howarth: Are there any other new technologies that you're experimenting with?
Yoshiyuki Miyamae: At the moment our focus is on the folding and creasing of the fabric. This is only my second collection using this technology, the first was Autumn Winter 2014. That also used this technology but used more linear patterns. This one is more about creating a surface by creasing fabric, so there is so much more we can do with using this technology as a base to develop new ideas. For the time being, this is at the core of what we're doing. But this technology could also be used in other industries. We're thinking about the possibilities of applying it into interior design, or products or architecture. This is only the beginning, so we want to nurture this idea. In a couple of years we could come up with some amazing interior products.
Dan Howarth: Do you think fashion is a good platform to experiment with technologies like this, to then move into other areas like interiors or architecture?
Yoshiyuki Miyamae: I think so. For me, using fashion as a platform for experimentation is the ideal situation. Going back to Issey Miyake as this company, where we're allowed to experiment with new ideas and develop with technology. It's always important for us to start with new ideas for fabrics. Probably that attitude is never going to change for us over the next 50 or 100 years. We're already producing lighting, so we're thinking about other products we can create with our methods and technology, that's already happening. For us it's very important to always start from the fashion point of view and it's a very suitable platform for me.
Dan Howarth: Are we going to see more of the 3D Steam Stretch in your upcoming collections?
Yoshiyuki Miyamae: I've already got too many ideas, but definitely. I'm not very keen that I only have six months between collections, it's basically too short for me to pack all the ideas in. We always have to come up with a theme and a new look, but definitely the 3D Steam Stretch is one we're going to develop.
Dan Howarth: Do you find that fashion's six month cycles are restricting when you’re trying to experiment with different technologies?
Yoshiyuki Miyamae: Of course it puts a great pressure on sometimes, I feel the difficulty of coming up with everything perfectly in such a short time. But at the same time, it works as a positive pressure because that's a deadline. So whatever happens, I have to have something delivered. It's a driving force at the same time, but nevertheless it's quite stressful.
Dan Howarth: Is it a way to take stock of what you've learnt over the past period and realise it in a way that's presentable?
Yoshiyuki Miyamae: It always parallels with the way we work. It's always using past experiences, like a farmer planting seeds for different variations of flowers for example. Those things are experiments and things I've thought about or experienced in the past. Maybe one day they flower and come back to me for the next collection, but it might take six months, a couple of years or longer. I have to think of everything in a linear way. I always have to start the completely new ideas now for the next collections or the collection after, but at the same time I hope that the experiences in the past suddenly flourish one day and become the basis of the next collection.
The other thing is that of course the designs, technologies and ideas are realised into the clothes for the customers. At the end of the day we're a fashion brand, our task is to keep coming up with wearable exciting clothes so they have to become a reality. It's a difficult and complicated process. For example the 3D Steam Stretch technology took us over a year, even when we had a fabric close to the right shape, we had to go through numerous tests about how many times you can wash it. We need to check if it deteriorates, it you can sit on it and it keeps its form. These are the kind of tasks we have to make this into real clothes.
Design development and technology is very important, but coming up with these exciting ideas for the collections takes us a really long time to turn it into actual clothes. It has to be useful and wearable in your everyday life, so it's exciting and fun to come up with these crazy ideas that are realistic and become useable products.
Dan Howarth: How many times can you wash the 3D Steam Stretch garments?
Yoshiyuki Miyamae: Countless times! We scratch it, wash it. We ask our staff to wear it every day and wash it at the end of the day, and it still goes back to the form. That basically satisfies for us that it is okay for long-term usage. This is also a part of the process that we don't take lightly, months of testing is carried out before the products are sold to customers.
Dan Howarth: How do you feel about taking the reigns for womenswear at Issey Miyake?
Yoshiyuki Miyamae: I obviously feel a great responsibility, but it's not all on me. I'm responsible for a design team of so many young talented people, they all have different interests and experiences and skills. It's almost like I'm managing a group of people in a school. Within our team we have a lot of fun coming up with new ideas and experimenting with new technologies, and completely new ideas for design.
I also feel very grateful that Issey Miyake himself is always there, almost like the school headmaster, managing and teaching us all including me. It's exciting and I feel very responsible, not only for myself but for the welfare of my team. We always try to work together in harmony to come up with exciting things.
Tokujin Yoshioka used to be part of a team at Issey Miyake a long time ago. I believe that because of the rich experience he learned from Issey Miyake's company, now he's very fortunate to have that background to be able to do his own thing.
Dan Howarth: What do you think about Yoshioka's new London store design for Issey Miyake?
Yoshiyuki Miyamae: My first impressions are really positive. I particularly like the idea of contrasting the old and the new. London has always preserved the old built environment and that idea is definitely taken into account, I can see that trace of it. Tokujin Yoshioka sympathetically put something very new, interesting and beautiful on top of it. The two co-existing together in a city like London, it's kind of representing London itself.
I also love the way that the huge glass windows are used, they're really successful. It stands out on the street, it's really open. I think it's going to be successful.