Issey Miyake does the unthinkable: the pleating machine goes public in a new store

Tokyo – One of the greatest pleaters in history, Mariano Fortuny, understandably kept his signature process a secret. The complex silk tightness that gave the world the Delphos dress was closely guarded in his Venice factory until his death in 1950. The greatest living pleater today, Issey Miyake, also kept his process somewhat hidden to consumers. That is, until this year.

At the new store in Aoyama, 20 per cent of the location’s generous 225 sq-m are devoted to a fully functioning pleating machine and its accompanying equipment. Instead of process secrecy, the intent is now completely different: the brand wants visitors to experience ‘the joy and excitement of making things right in front of them.’

Three days a week, for an hour in the afternoon, several engineers from the Internal Pleats Laboratory – the company department where new pleating technology is developed – demonstrate how the clothes are made. They feed the machine a T-shirt cut and sewn 1.5 times as large as the finished size, and after 10 minutes of whirring and pressing closely guided by human hands, out comes a pleated creation.

This isn’t, in theory, the first time the brand has been somewhat transparent about its signature process. In early 2016, during the exhibition at the National Art Centre in Tokyo, a machine was on site, with two engineers working on Ikko Tanaka-related fabric. It’s akin to what Fendi has done at their Colosseo Quadrato headquarter-opening exhibition in Rome and what Dior did at the Couturier du rêve showcase at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris, with master artisans on site working by hand on fur and leather, respectively. But this is the first time that Issey Miyake makes technical production part of the in-store purchase experience: shoppers get to see how the (beautiful) sausage is made, something that can in turn inspire a heightened sense of respect and appreciation for the garment they’re about to buy. It’s a quiet statement about slow fashion, the value of timeless purchases and a strong example of a on-brand and non-gimmicky physical retail experience.

But as implicit as those qualities are, something else speak volumes: the company has turned its largest Homme Plissé store to date – a space designed by Tokujin Yoshioka – into a permanent shrine to production transparency, an extremely topical matter in today’s demanding and quickly evolving manufacturer-consumer relationship. Will other high-end fashion brands be following suit?

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