Why Issey Miyake Was Steve Jobs’ Favorite Designer

It’s no wonder, really, that Issey Miyake was Steve Jobs’ favorite designer.

The man behind Mr. Jobs’s black mock turtleneck personal uniform, who died on August 5 aged 84, was a pioneer in all sorts of ways: the first foreign designer to walk at Paris Fashion Week. (in April 1974), among the first designers to collaborate with artists, and a proponent of “comfortable clothing” long before the term existed. But it was his understanding and appreciation of technology and how it could be harnessed aesthetically to create new and alluring utilities that set Mr. Miyake apart.

Before there were wearables, before there were connected jackets, before there were 3D-printed sneakers and laser-cut laces, there was Mr. Miyake, pushing the boundaries of material innovation to bridge past and future. future. He was the original champion of fashion technology.

It began in 1988 with Mr. Miyake’s research into the heat press and how it could be used to create garments that started out as fabric two to three times larger than normal, which was then pressed between two sheets of paper and fed into an industrial machine. that shaped it into sharp pleats, which in turn became garments that never wrinkled, flattened, or required complicated fastenings. In 1994, those garments formed a line of their own known as Pleats Please (later turned into a menswear version, Homme Plissé): a reengineering of Mario Fortuny’s classic Greek drapes into something practical and oddly fun.

So it was: Then came an experiment that involved a continuous piece of yarn fed into an industrial weaving machine to create a piece of fabric with built-in seams that traced different garment shapes, which in turn could be cut as desired by the wearer, thus eliminating manufacturing debris. Known as A-POC (a piece of cloth), the collection was introduced in 1997, decades before “zero waste” became a wake-up call of the responsible fashion movement.

And then there was 132 5, which Mr. Miyaki debuted in 2010 (after he stepped back from his day-to-day responsibilities but remained involved with his brand). Inspired by the work of computer scientist Jun Mitani, he comprised flat-pack items into complex origami folds that opened to create three-dimensional pieces on the body. The collection was developed in conjunction with Mr. Miyaki’s in-house research and development team, founded in 2007 and known as Reality Lab. (The name, not to be confused with Meta’s Reality Labs division, though arguably its precursor, it was also used later for a retail store in Tokyo).

Pieces from all of these lines are now included in the collections of museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Victoria & Albert Museum, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. They are extraordinary, soft sculptures that transform and move with the body, but what makes them unique is that they were conceived not only as things of beauty, but as solutions to everyday needs (a core value of Miyake was the importance of ” clothes to live”). . And they worked as such.

This is where the black turtleneck comes in. It was by no means Mr. Miyake’s most interesting garment. It may even have been the most banal. But it embodies his founding principles and serves as the door through which anyone not particularly interested in fashion could walk to discover the Miyake universe. Mr. Jobs did exactly that.

Indeed, it is no accident that Mr. Jobs’s own exposure to Mr. Miyake came through technology. Or so the late Apple founder told Walter Isaacson, his biographer.

According to Isaacson’s book, “Steve Jobs,” Jobs was fascinated by the uniform jacket that Miyake created for Sony workers in 1981. Made of ripstop nylon with no flaps, it featured sleeves that could be unbuttoned to transform the jacket. in a vest. Jobs liked it so much and what he stood for (corporate bonding) that he asked Miyake to do a similar look for Apple employees, though when he returned to Cupertino with the idea, he was “booed.” he told Mr. Isaacson.

Still, according to Isaacson’s book, the two men became friends, and Jobs often visited Miyake, eventually adopting a Miyake garment, the mock black turtleneck, as a key part of his own uniform. It was a garment that eliminated an awkward fold in the neck, that had the ease of a t-shirt and sweatshirt but also the fresh, minimalist lines of a jacket.

Miyake made “like a hundred of them,” Jobs, who used them until his death in 2011, said in the book. (Mr. Isaacson wrote that he saw them stacked in Mr. Jobs’ closet, and the book’s cover features a portrait of Mr. Jobs wearing, naturally, a black mock turtleneck.)

Even more than his Levi’s 501s and New Balance shoes, the turtleneck became synonymous with Jobs’s particular blend of genius and focus: the way he settled on a uniform to reduce the number of decisions he had to make. take in the mornings, better. to concentrate on his work. It was a dress approach later adopted by adherents like Mark Zuckerberg and Barack Obama. Also his ability to combine the elegance and utility of soft corners not only in his own style but also in the style of his products.

As Ryan Tate wrote in Gawker, the turtleneck “helped make him the world’s most recognizable CEO,” Bloomberg’s Troy Patterson called it “the garb of a secular monk.” It was so ingrained in pop culture that Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos later adopted it when trying to convince the world of her own Jobs-like brilliance, despite the fact that Mr. Miyake’s brand pulled the style in 2011, after the death of Mr. Jobs. (An updated version was reintroduced in 2017 as “The Semi-Dull T.”)

It did not matter. At that moment, the entire ethos of the garment had been transformed. Before Mr. Jobs met Mr. Miyake, after all, the black turtleneck was very much the province of beatniks and Samuel Beckett, associated with clove cigarettes, the center of the city and poetry readings (also ninjas, cat snatchers and anyone who wanted to blend in with the night). . Later, it meant paradigm shifts.

But I wouldn’t have done it without Mr. Miyake. Mr. Jobs was not your typical fashion cliché muse. But even more than the architects and artists who have gravitated toward Miyake’s clothes, he has become the designer’s ambassador in history: a genuinely populist part of a legacy that helped shape not only the rarefied inner sanctum of the design, but also to the essence of how we think. about the dress

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