As the world of fashion becomes ever more homogeneous, it takes someone like the iconic Japanese designer Issey Miyake to create something truly new.
Iconic fashion designer Issey Miyake invents the new
The fabric lies as flat as a pancake on the table, its neat square folds reflected in the pretty geometric pattern on its surface.
But with a gentle tug, it springs into a dynamic three-dimensional expanse of fabric, transformed as though by magic into part sculpture, part dress.
This is the latest creation of Issey Miyake, the most iconic of Japanese designers, who this week unveils his first new fashion range in more than a decade.
Miyake, now 72, has long been a master of avant-garde fashion. From the signature crinkles of his Pleats Please range to the single-cloth garments in his A-POC line, his work frequently fuses the futuristic technology for which Japan is famed with the purity of its traditional craftsmanship.
After handing over the reins on his fashion career to Naoki Takizawa in 1994 and 1999, who has since been succeeded by Dai Fujiwara, he has been concentrating on design research ever since. And so it should perhaps come as little surprise to learn that the material metamorphosis of a piece of fabric from 2D to 3D lies at the unconventional heart of his new range, called 132 5.
The collection consists of pieces of fabric that are presented in an intricately folded flat-packed state - but when opened, blossom into single-piece 3D dresses and accessories that are as sculptural as they are eye-catching.
An unlikely fusion of scientists, pattern cutters, engineers, traditional artisans and regional factory workers collaborated to create the new collection, which was developed by the team of Issey Miyake designers and researchers known collectively as Reality Lab.
Inspired by origami, captured by computer software and created on a hi-tech new polyester fabric made from recycled plastic bottles, the new collection is quintessentially Miyake.
Amid the technology, ties to its Japanese artisan roots are also tangible: the pieces were woven in Fukui prefecture, dyed at a factory in Ishikawa and foil-stamped in its flat state in Osaka.
And it is this geographical journey reflecting Japan's production heritage with which Miyake was most concerned when he unveiled the new collection this week in the minimalist concrete confines of his design space 21_21 Design Sight in Tokyo's midtown.
Dressed in an immaculate suit with a buttoned-up midnight blue shirt, Miyake swapped typical fashion vernacular for a strongly expressed concern about the future of Japan's famous manufacturing industry.
Describing the motivations behind making his first new line in 13 years, he says: "The production centres in Japan are well known for their pursuit of making things using superb skills, wisdom and passion.
"However, they are now facing an unprecedented situation with talent being drained away and factories closing down.
"This is a critical stage where we must focus upon this grave situation and think seriously about the future of making things."
His comments reflect Miyake's ongoing preoccupation with the future rather than the past - something long captured in his designs and rooted in his personal history.
Born in Hiroshima shortly before the Second World War broke out, Miyake was a seven-year-old schoolboy when he survived the "Little Boy" atomic bomb attack on the city, which claimed the lives of his relatives.
Explaining why he has never spoken about this period in his life, he once wrote in The New York Times: "I have never chosen to share my memories or thoughts of that day. I have tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to put them behind me, preferring to think of things that can be created, not destroyed, and that bring beauty and joy."
It was in 1970 that his quest for beauty and joy culminated in the opening of his design studio in Japan, following stints working in the fashion industry in Paris and New York.
Today, he is among the most acclaimed of Japanese designers, widely credited for putting the nation on the global fashion map alongside fellow creators Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons.
And it seems only fitting that the designer chose to showcase 132 5 at 21_21 Design Sight, the semi-submerged angular concrete space designed by Tadao Ando, which is operated by the Miyake Research Foundation.
The new label takes centre stage in its new exhibition called Reality Lab, which effortlessly transcends the creative boundaries that conventionally divide product design, art, sculpture and fashion.
The main exhibition space is filled with the sleek silhouette of mannequins wearing a series of sculptural pieces from the collection - and next to each lies the same item of clothing neatly folded into its compact and perfectly flat-packed state.
At one end of the room also sits a surface covered in countless white paper origami creations, behind which a screen displays how such shapes were achieved via computer programming.
This is the work of professor Jun Mitani, the computer scientist who created the software used to translate paper origami into flat-packed dress into 3D sculptural creation.
Miyake's ecological concerns are equally important: one part of the exhibition showcases how the unique new 100 per cent recyclable polyester fabric used in the collection was created by the Japanese textile company Teijin.
Milling around the exhibition were around a dozen people dressed in white "scientist" outfits - the designers that form the Reality Lab team, which created the new collection.
Standing by the endless flowering of the white paper origami displays, Sachiko Yamamoto, the pattern cutter who leads the Reality Lab team, says: "I've worked with Mr Miyake for over 30 years and he has always been preoccupied with the future. The clothes are all handmade in Japan and one dress is made from a single piece of fabric. We need to think about the eco and recycling aspect when we design. This will become even more important for all designers in the next 10 years."
Last week, these creations - part art, part fashion, part future - became available in the four inaugural 132 5 ISSEY MIYAKE stores, which opened on Friday in Tokyo, London, Paris and Zurich - complete with iPads to illustrate to customers directly the science behind the clothes, as well as how to open and close them on a more practical level. The first collection includes 16 different styles including dresses, bags and T-shirts, with prices ranging from 8,000Y (Dh353) to 85,500Y (Dh3,775).
For Miyake, it is clear that this project, like all his creations, represents the antithesis of the rise of fast (and often disposable) fashion that fills high streets around the world. To illustrate this, he explains how the new collection was initially inspired by a tour of Japan when he was researching an earlier exhibition three years ago.
"Many factories in Japan are disappearing or the work is reduced. Many have been moving factories to other countries where the low cost of labour is available. As a result, the technical skills are not being passed on.
"With the help of those engineers and craftsmen whom I met through our research and those textile factory people I have long worked with, I wish to create clothes that use the best of the special technical skills of these people."
That's a nostalgia-tinged aspiration for a man who never looks back, but if Miyake's got anything to do with it the 132 5 will be fashion's future.
Ÿ Reality Lab, the exhibition that showcases the new 132 5 collection and how it was made, runs at 21_21 Design Sight in Tokyo until December 26. For more information, go to: www.2121designsight.jp