How Fashion Legend Issey Miyake Stays Creative

At 76, Miyake is still trying to make people think critically about design.

Japanese designer Issey Miyake retired many years ago from catwalk shows and seasonal collections, leaving a team of disciples to take care of the clothes. But Miyake, who is as famous for engineering the perfect pleat as he is for producing Steve Jobs’s signature black turtlenecks, remains startlingly creative. Since handing over runway duties in 1999 to Naoki Takizawa (and now Yoshiyuki Miyamae), he has designed everything from collapsible lamps to living room chairs.


Perhaps nothing provides more of a creative outlet than 21_21 Design Sight, a small museum in Tokyo’s Roppongi neighborhood that he opened with Pritzker Prize-winning architect Tadao Ando in 2007. 21_21 Design Sight has allowed Miyake, now 76, to continue exploring the ideas that gave his work such resonance on the catwalk: the intersection of fashion, technology, and design.

The venue serves as a design-research facility, but also an exhibition space. It typically holds just two or three shows a year and includes an eclectic mix of subjects; past shows have looked at primitivism in design, the career of Japanese graphic designer Ikko Tanaka, and the art of rice. While Miyake still oversees the work done at the Miyake Design Studio, it’s research and development he truly loves, and 21_21 has given him the platform to continue that. “I want to represent the action of thinking,” he told the Financial Times earlier this year. “ We are working towards the concept of […] no fashion.”

The latest presentation, Image-Makers, curated by Hélène Kelmachter, features the work of medium-eclipsing artists, including French graphic designer Jean-Paul Goude, theater director Robert Wilson, film director David Lynch and avant-garde leather goods maker Noritaka Tatehana. “I was approached by [Goude] to do a show at our venue,” Miyake told me in an email. “I have always admired his art direction and thought it might be an opportunity to showcase not just his work but that of [other] artists as well, using the idea of creators who have no fears, limits, or boundaries for their creations.” Goude, who spent the 1970s working as Esquire’s art director, is best known for cultivating the image of singer Grace Jones, whose iconic look is still heavily referenced today. Many of Goude’s burnt-in-the-brain images are on display, as well as lithographs by Lynch and portraits by Wilson, as well as Tatehana’s shoe sculptures. The collection of works, while not outwardly connected, do exactly what Miyake hoped they would: prove the limitless power of creative imagery.

The show runs through October 5 at 21_21 Design Sight, which is a five-minute walk from the Tokyo Midtown subway station in Roppongi. For more details, go here.

About the author

Brooklyn-based writer Lauren Sherman began her career as a lifestyle reporter at Forbes, and has since held executive positions at both and She has also written for the Business of Fashion, Ad Age,, Women’s Health, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, InStyle,, and, among others.