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Pleats Please: Issey Miyake Welcomes Everyone Into the Fold

Pleats are one one the most timeless and enduring decorative motifs in fashion, worn by everyone from Ancient Egyptian pharaohs to Hollywood royals like Marilyn Monroe. For centuries, pleating was a labor intensive process reserved for cultural elites, made by folding garments accordion style and heat setting them between each wear. In the 1920s, Spanish designer Mariano Fortuny created one of the first semi-permanent pleated garments, the Delphos gown. Made by pleating silk hundreds of times to resemble a classical Greek statue, the dress retained its shape — that is, until you washed it. Then, in the early 1990s, Japanese designer Issey Miyake pioneered innovative permanent pleated polyester clothes that could be tossed in the washing machine and come out no worse for the wear.

 Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia - Museo Fortuny

Miyake first began experimenting with pleating in his collection in 1988, and was further influenced by a commission by Ballet Frankfurt to design costumes for the world premiere of William Forsyth’s The Loss of Small Detail in 1991. In order to assure that his designs would move fluidly with the dancers’ bodies, Miyake chose polyester, a lightweight synthetic material, and introduced his now famous garment pleating technique. The costumes were cut and sewn much larger than the dancers’ measurements, then hand-fed into a heat press sandwiched between two layers of washi paper. Because synthetic fibers — unlike their natural counterparts such as silk and linen — have thermoplastic properties, the pleats remained permanently in the fabric’s memory.

William Forsythe and Ballet Frankfurt perform The Loss of Small Detail. Photography: Dominik Mentzos. Image source: Issey Miyake by Taschen

Breathable and wrinkle-proof, Miyake’s garment pleated designs look as great on the street as they do on a stage, and were soon bestsellers in his runway collection. They were so popular, in fact, that in 1994 the designer launched Pleats Please, a line of functional and versatile wardrobe staples like turtleneck tops, midi skirts, and wide-leg trousers in fun colors and patterns. Illustrating Miyake’s core belief that “design is not for philosophy, but for life,” Pleats Please pieces can be folded to a compact size, perfect for traveling with only carry-on luggage. While Miyake retired from design in 1999, he continues to oversee all the lines in the Issey Miyake company. In 2013, the introduction of the Homme Plissé line extended the Pleats Please vibe to a menswear offering.

2012 20th Celebration Art Direction: Taku Satoh, Design: Shingo Noma

2014 Issey Miyake Spring/Summer Campaign

The Pleats Please and Homme Plissé lines are best known for vertical pleats, although the folds can be placed horizontally or even on the diagonal. Between between 2002 and 2009, then-Issey Miyake creative director Naoki Takizawa introduced the Fête line, which featured some of the brand’s most experimental shapes to date, like a monster jumpsuit and a sculptural tunic with arm and leg openings on the front of the garment and puffed up shoulder details. And since 2000, me ISSEY MIYAKE has carried forward this playful spirit with new pleating innovations such as grid-like waffle pleats.

Issey Miyake Fête by Naoki Takizawa monster jumpsuit, Autumn-Winter 2005

 

From Arena (UK), September 1992 edition. Photography: Troy Word. Image source: Issey Miyake by Taschen