The miracle of Issey Miyake‘s creations is their incredible lightness, the sense that they have a life of their own when you move and that their movement responds to yours, the dazzling architecture that supports them and the joy they exude. “When I got married,” says a 1970s socialite, “while flying home with my husband, we were upgraded to First. The stewardess had been informed that we were a new couple and was waiting to receive my wedding dress, which she imagined to be monumental. She couldn’t believe her eyes when I showed her, out of a tiny bag, something that looked like a rag that had just been wrung out. Worn, it was just sumptuous.”

He would have liked to be a dancer

Beyond fashion, beyond trends, Issey Miyake has his fans among the great travelers. His “Pleats” pieces weigh only a few grams, roll up into a ball at the bottom of a suitcase and straighten up by themselves when worn, without ever wrinkling or losing their folds. But above all, they feature deep colors, remarkable prints and a style that is always surprising and suits everyone.

Issey Miyake, who left this world on August 5, became an adult at the age of 7, the day the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, the city of his childhood, taking away half of his family. To survive the horror, he decided to forget it, to push it away through dance. He wanted to be a dancer. In 1969, after an apprenticeship with Guy Laroche and Hubert de Givenchy, he left Paris and flew to New York where he befriended the conceptual artist Christo, who transformed monuments by draping them with large pleated tarpaulins. Miyake was interested in sculpture, fascinated by Giacometti and Brancusi.

He explored textiles, their resistance, their fluidity, he created clothes with cotton bags, wood pulp, Japanese paper, pineapple fiber. The garment, for him, is above all an art form, a movement that accompanies the body’s movements, a third dimension added to something that should never be static and flat. Pleating became his obsession. He developed a polyester jersey that memorizes folds and never gets out of shape.

He gave his collections to the Frankfurt Ballet and watched them spontaneously participate in the choreography.

Fortuny and the Aurige of Delphi

Pleating is a technique that dates back to Pharaonic Egypt, where it was, because of the complexity of its maintenance, reserved for the elite. In ancient Greece, we find traces of it in the drapes of the caryatids, but especially in the Aurige of Delphi, a statue that inspired Mariano Fortuny, a Spanish designer based in Venice, who created a dress that would  become iconic. We are at the beginning of the twentieth century, at the verge of the Art Nouveau era. In Europe, women still wear corsets and half-crinolines. In search of an eternal garment, Fortuny will interpret the tunic of the Aurige in a single model, with a few variations, accompanied by a large silk shawl.

Flexible, light, this dress, worn by the legendary dancer Isadora Ducan, will become the must-have piece of the time. Ducan’s tragic death at forty-nine after her Fortuny scarf got entangled in the wheel of her moving car, breaking her neck, will add another layer to the myth. Closer to us, how can we forget Marilyn Monroe’s “blow up” dress in The Seven Year Itch, a white dress with a pleated skirt that suddenly rises up as the actress walks over a subway entrance after leaving the cinema with Tom Ewell?

A know-how inseparable from haute-couture

The manufacture of pleating, when not industrial, takes place according to a ritual that historical workshops still practice today. In London, at Ciment Pleating, a company founded in 1925 and a supplier of Alexander McQueeen, Mary Katranzou, Victoria Beckham and Erdem, as in Paris at the Ateliers Lognon, founded in 1853 and reactivated in 1945, which is now integrated into the circuit of Chanel‘s Métiers d’art, the techniques are similar. The fabric is molded on cardboard pleated in accordion fashion, sometimes decorated with patterns. It is then ironed, tightened with strings, subjected to a steam bath and then cooled to ensure it never loses its shape.

At the end, the pleating, which requires 3m of fabric for 1m of garment, gives a surprisingly light result and charming movement that evokes freedom and joy of life.