For most New Zealanders, designer Issey Miyake’s legacy lies in a fragrance

Issey Miyake's signature pleats and modern elegance will be remembered, but for many New Zealanders, his name is probably the most familiar of a perfume bottle.

Kyodo News

Issey Miyake’s signature pleats and modern elegance will be remembered, but for many New Zealanders, his name is probably the most familiar of a perfume bottle.

Harriet Pudney is a beauty enthusiast and former Stuff journalist who lives in Melbourne.

Fashion is one of those industries that many people are comfortable considering to be frivolous, unserious, unworthy of any real respect or esteem. I get it – a lot of fashion people are really only on this side of Zoolander. But it’s the fourth largest industry in the world, and at its best it produces true art and defines an era.

Think of Alexander McQueen and his parades which were more theater than commerce. Think Calvin Klein briefs and the ’90s chic they embodied.

Think of Issey Miyake. The Japanese designer died of liver cancer this week aged 84, after a decades-long career that included stints in New York and Paris at Givenchy. Survivor of the Hiroshima bombing, Miyake wrote in the New York Times in 2009 that experience was never far from him.

“When I close my eyes, I still see things no one should ever experience,” Miyake wrote. ” I remember everything. Within three years, my mother died from radiation exposure.

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Miyake tried to put these horrors behind him, “preferring to think of things that can be created, not destroyed, and which bring beauty and joy”.

“I got into the field of clothing design, in part because it’s a creative format that’s modern and optimistic,” her New York Times article continued.

What a life and what a legacy. Miyake’s signature pleats and modern elegance will be remembered, but to most New Zealanders, his name is probably the most familiar of a perfume bottle.

Issey Miyake opens the Making Things exhibition in Paris in October 1998.

Michel Euler/AP

Issey Miyake opens the Making Things exhibition in Paris in October 1998.

Launched in 1992, L’eau d’Issey was one of the most popular fragrances of the decade. With a conical frosted glass bottle and domed stopper inspired by the moonlight on the Eiffel Tower, it evokes the clean, refined minimalism of that decade like nothing else.

As a kid in the 90s, this felt like the pinnacle of adult sophistication, representing adulthood, experience, and elegance. It was the stuff of duty-free counters and dinner dates when even a trip to Australia seemed incredibly luxurious.

The perfumes that are becoming so popular tend to be quite affordable: they must suit a lot of people. L’eau d’Issey is not what you would call confrontational, but rather inspired by a cool, clean waterfall and water on a woman’s skin.

They call it an aquatic floral, with top notes of lotus, rose and melon moving through a heart of lily and peony to a woodsy, musky base. It’s a soft and sweet scent, layered and pretty rather than intense or sultry.

Your mileage will vary depending on your life in 1996 and the quality of memories it brings back to you. I guarantee you’ll recognize it, though.

It was Miyake’s genius. He created beautiful garments that did not restrict their wearer, instead celebrating freedom, movement, and physique. Its perfumes reflect this same attitude. Miyake wanted people to feel good and comfortable in his work.

Miyake told the Guardian in 2016 that “really, design work is about creating something that works in real life”.

There he is: a true artist, but without pretension. What a loss.

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