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TOKYO—Issey Miyake may have exerted fanatical precision over every pleat in his creations but he was surprisingly laissez-faire when it came to his relationship with the late photographer Irving Penn.

Each season, the Japanese designer would ship his collections to New York and gave Penn carte blanche to photograph the sculptural pieces. In order to give Penn complete artistic freedom, Miyake never attended the photo sessions, and likewise Penn never went to one of Miyake’s shows during Paris fashion week. This unorthodox arrangement, spanning 1987 to 1999, resulted in more than 250 photos, many of which are currently on display in the city.

“Irving Penn and Issey Miyake: Visual Dialogue” opens Friday and runs through April 8. It is taking place at 21 21 Design Sight, an art and design event space Miyake oversees with a group of fellow directors.

Even for a brand as conceptual as Miyake’s, fashion shows must demonstrate a certain amount of wearability, whereas Penn chose to accentuate the sculptural quality of the clothing. The photographer called on the talents of makeup artist and photographer Tyen and the late hairstylist John Sahag to execute his vision. Often, the models appear with fabric obscuring their faces; some end up resembling cartoon characters, robots or mythical creatures.
A total of 73 of Penn’s photos for Miyake were made into posters promoting the collections. The layout and typography of each of these posters were entrusted to renowned Japanese graphic designer Ikko Tanaka, who mainly used stark white backgrounds and simple black lettering, further enhancing the visual impact of Penn’s photographs. Several of these posters are on display at the exhibition, as well as some of Penn’s preliminary drawings for his photo sittings, showing the pose and composition he most wanted to capture in the final image.
One room of the exhibition houses a long screen, on which Penn’s photographs are projected. There is also a brief animated film made up of drawings by the cartoonist Michael Crawford, a regular contributor to The New Yorker. The film, directed by Pascal Roulin, chronicles the genesis of a fashion collection and one of Penn’s fashion shoots.

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