The afternoon sun shines over a workshop in Kyoto as artisan Mamoru Nohara pulls on a spool of white linen thread before wrapping it around two planks of cedar wood. The fluidity of his movements reflects the four decades he spent perfecting the art of itajime, a traditional Japanese resist-dyeing technique that involves attaching wood around textiles to create geometric motifs. While artisans have long applied this dyeing style to kimonos, today Nohara is crafting something different – an abstractly asymmetric two-tone top with spiraling swatches that will be featured in 132 5 Issey Miyake’s new collection.
Miyake has long been a master at fusing high-tech textiles and futuristic innovation with the imperfect beauty of traditional craftsmanship techniques, typically with timeless results. And since launching in 2010, the 132 5 brand has been synonymous with creating pieces that often fold completely flat, in origami-like complexity, yet open up to form sculptural three-dimensional garments.
The story behind 132 5 Issey Miyake’s Triangle Dye collection
tools of trade
The 132 5 Issey Miyake F/W22 collection comprises a trio of garments (top, pants, coat) collectively called ‘Triangle Dye’, all dyed in three bold color combinations by Itajime artisans in Kyoto. Unlike traditional Itajime, the new 132 5 Issey Miyake pieces are crafted from Issey Miyake’s signature recycled polyester, made from plastic bottles. Color combinations include chocolate brown on a soft yellow undyed base; deep, almost black green on fiery orange; and indigo blue on light gray. The release of the garments this August also coincides with a special exhibition highlighting the Itajime process and collaboration at the Issey Miyake Kyoto flagship’s Kura gallery, with further events also planned in Taiwan.
“The theme of this new collection is rotation,” says a designer from 132 5 Issey Miyake – who speaks anonymously, as is often the case with the brand. “For example, the world is spinning, a spinning top, or a falling snowflake, which is a rotationally symmetrical hexagon. These three Itajime pieces are inspired by the triangular shape of a spiral staircase that swings around. When folded, the colored parts appear as straight lines, but when opened they form hexagons.” She adds, “Issey Miyake has always respected traditional craftsmen. Fusing traditional craftsmanship with what we do – folding and using a modern polyester material – creates a new way of expressing the beauty of Itajime.”
The pieces are made at a decades-old company in Kyoto that specializes in all things Itajime. For the 132 5 Issey Miyake pieces, loose white stitching is first applied to the surface of the folded pieces in an origami style to mark the positioning of the wooden planks and subsequent color lines. Kneeling at a low table, Nohara aligns these marks with two broad lengths of sugi cedar either side before pulling out the thread and holding the boards in place with makeshift fasteners. There are strips of white cotton between the textile and the boards to protect the textile from damage caused by splinters or oils released from the forests.
Then the fun begins: Nohara moves to a nearby U-shaped wooden device resembling a modified church pew. Directly in front of his built-in seat is a wooden panel with a metal hook holding a spool of linen thread. Nohara settles on his green checkered pillow and pulls on the cord with unexpected force, causing a loud creaking noise before wrapping it three times around each end of the boards. Two thinner planks of hinoki cypress are then positioned on either side and fastened firmly to hold everything in place.
“I’ve been doing this since I was 23,” says Nohara, who is now 63. “It took me ten years to master it. In the beginning it was very painful for my body and joints. Everything was so difficult. The most important thing when dyeing kimonos is to make sure the boards are positioned correctly and the lines are properly separated.’ Referring to the collaboration with 132 5 Issey Miyake, he smiles: “It’s something completely different than making a kimono. It is a different way of coloring and the material and design are also different. But the end result is very nice – as you’d expect, because this is Issey Miyake. I am very honored to be part of this process.”
The next step is dyeing, which takes place on the ground floor of the workshop, a warm, bustling industrial space full of large washing machines and a tangle of ceiling pipes. Here, third-generation dyeing specialist Tadahisa Shigeno first places the box-packed clothes in long tubular washing machines filled with cold water for 24 hours, with the release of small bubbles reflecting the water’s slow penetration into all its layers.
Next, Shigeno demonstrates his dye alchemy by mixing a pinch of yellow, blue, and red powders in a pot, which turns the exposed parts of the yellow textile into the desired shade of brown. The mixture is then poured into the washing machines, where the boarded fabrics sit for up to 40 minutes at temperatures of around 130 degrees Celsius.
“I really have to think about the materials because the amount of dye or the way the dye is absorbed is different,” explains Shigeno, whose artisan grandfather first worked with Issey Miyake 20 years ago. “Once polyester is dyed, you can’t really make the color lighter. But with cotton you can make it lighter.
Next, the clothes are dried in the warm, dry heat of a sauna-like space, still pinned between its boards to keep any fold lines in place. Finally, the boards are untied and the product revealed (the final part of the process, using a special heat-pressing technique to secure the folds, takes place in another factory). The last three pieces are innovative and avant-garde: the rotating cuts are reflected in angular areas of color whose edges are softened by the organically irregular blurring of the color lines. Shigeno uses the word guzen – meaning luck or coincidence – to describe the outcome, reflecting the element of surprise in the end result.
“I’ve been doing this for about ten years,” he says. “With Itajime, it’s really difficult to control everything to get exactly the result you want. Sometimes the patterns come out unexpectedly or something accidentally happens. But when something doesn’t go as planned, Issey Miyake’s team is usually happy about it. They think it’s beautiful.” He adds, “It’s great, but it can also be difficult to recreate.”
132 5 design team member Issey Miyake reflects the appeal of the element of unpredictability that ensures each piece is unique. “When I see a play for the first time, I’m always excited,” she says. “It’s nerve wracking because I have no idea what the end result will be. But that’s the beauty of it – the element of surprise. Finding something I didn’t expect, but seeing beauty in it.’ §