Tis the season for coffee table tomes flying out of Amazon and bookstores and especially for fashion books. The Alexander McQueen tribute book epidemic alone could weigh heavily on postmen the world over – three books (none sanctioned by McQueen thesmelves) is a tad excessive no? So often you come up with glorified picture books – beautiful visuals that look good opened casually on your desk – but they lack depth and reading value. Ok, so I do know a lot of fash types who really aren't into reading (even Grace Coddington professes to not having read more than two books in her life that weren't picture books) but me, I like a good chunk of text to get my teeth into.
Issey Miyake's Pleats Please celebrates its 20th anniversary and quite rightly does it with a Taschen tome. It celebrates its anniversary not from when the collection was launched but when Issey Miyake began research for this stroke of design genius. Perhaps the world takes this wondrous line of clothing for granted with its portable permanent pleats but I never fail to get excited when wearing my own Pleats Please pieces. Trend forecaster Li Edelkoort sums it up by saying "Wearing a Miyake is like wearing an experience." The book celebrates the technical innovation of Pleats Please as well as the inarticulable joy of a Pleats Please garment.
The main takeaway point is that Pleats Please was born out of a desire to create a piece of design rather than fashion. "I wanted to delve into the potential, not of fashion but of clothing as a product," says Miyake in the book. It was also born out of necessity when the Japanese weaving business at the time was in decline as well as function, when women's roles were shifting from home to the office. Pleats Please was and is a problem solving solution that also happens to be aesthetically mesmerising.
It began in the late 80s when Issey Miyake and his textiles innovator Makiko Minagawa happen upon a silk scarf folded in four and pleated at and angle, which planted the seeds for Pleats Please. Then began the laborious fabric research which led them to developing their own textiles. Natural fibres were out of the question as they couldn't hold the pleat permanently and cost was an issue. Japan at the time was busy developing the 4th generation of synthetic fibres and so they turned to a tricot knit fabric normally used for linings. They then had to solve the problem of static caused by synthetic fibres and did so by creating polyester threads coated with an antistatic treatment, an original thread for Pleats Please.
When they tried to pleat the garments, they broke a few machines in the process. They had to convince their partnering company Polytex Industry to place pre-cut, pre-folded garments into a pleating machine. Eventually the pleating process was perfected. The first use of these pleated garments was for the William Forsythe 1991 ballet The Lost of Small Detail, which triggered off the first proper Pleats Please collection in 1993.
The book highlights each step from thread to final pleated garment and is surprisingly candid and open about all of Pleats Please' manufacturing partners. From Toray Textiles which makes the thread and knits the fabric to Polytex, who does all the pleating. This again underscores Miyake's approach to Pleats Please as a product, that wouldn't be possible without this line of production. In the wake of the tsunami where companies in this production line were affected, the way that Issey Miyake pays tribute to the factory employees seems even more pertinent.
The brilliant thing about the Pleats Please line is that whilst the attributes have been constant over the years, the technique and design process have been altered and refined over the years. Inkjet printing has allowed precise and mind-blowing graphics to be used. Different pleat structures such as kashi pleats (pleats in some places and not others) or fine "mist" pleats add different textures. They've also introduced a new initiative where retrieved Pleats Please fabric and remnants are shipped to Nippon Steel to be converted into energy to heat the gas generators inside. This partly addresses the issue of using petroleum-based materials for Pleats Please.
On the creative output of Pleats Please, the book doesn't scrimp on imagery or detail either. It documents the artist series which saw the likes of photographer Araki printing audacious images on to Pleats Please pieces using the then newly employed inkjet printing. It is clear that Miyake never "used" art to vanity boost, but instead invited artists with the word "Please." to treat the garments as humble canvases.
That said, Pleats Please seems to conveniently cross into the art genre unintentionally. I loved the way the pieces were displayed at the Big Bang: Creation and Destruction in 20th Century Art 2006 exhibition at the Centre Pompidou.
Then there's the memorable creative campaign and art direction. Francis Giacobetti captured the movement of Pleats Please on expressive bodies. Ikko Tanaka set the tone for his spare and simple image compositions and really sent a strong image out to the world to promote Pleats Please. The current art director Taku Satoh carries on that tradition with witty results – recontextualising Pleats Please pieces into anything from sushi to typography to pencils.
The final chapter in the book showcases the gorgeous imagery shot by photographer Yuriko Takagi who took 120 pieces of Pleats Please between 1995-9 to India, China, Kenya and Morocco asking people to wear the pieces in situ. There are few clothing lines that could be assimilated so seamlessly into these extremely remote settings in wildly varied cultures. The focus of the photos aren't the Pleats Please pieces, but the people wearing them. That in itself is the ultimate achievement for Miyake: "(Clothes) must bestow freedom on those who wear them. It is our job as designers to work with manufactures to create clothes from materials in such a way that those who wear them have the freedom of expression and its resulting joy. For me, that is the legacy of Pleats Please."