By  on May 24, 1994

CHICAGO -- Fans of Issey Miyake say the designer's garments aren't merely clothes, but works of art.

Miyake underlined the point during a lecture he gave recently to a group of art students and the fashion community A list under the School of the Art Institute's Visiting Artists Program. But the artist/designer also revealed a practical side and a charming, self-effacing wit.

Miyake is best known for his finely pleated garments which take on a unique form on each person's body.

"The pleating process allows me to create form and texture in one process," he explained.

While Miyake didn't give away all his trade secrets, he did let on that pleating, done in a special machine, is the very last stage in manufacturing.

With the help of a couple of models, some students and members of Miyake's own entourage, he led the audience through a series of revelatory before-and-after comparisons.

A plain square of material, fed into the pleating machine, comes out a shapeless lump. "Even I don't know what it is," Miyake quipped as he threw it to a model. She unravels it, pulls it over her head -- an elegant, sculptural top.

A huge, 16-foot expanse of material is transformed by pleating and twisting into a dress which bounces like a hula hoop as the model walks across the stage.

Miyake showed samples ranging from his lower priced Pleats Please line of basic garments -- his take on the simple jeans and T-shirt concept which he said he envied when he first began designing -- to a futuristic multicolor "flying saucer" dress.

His wittier touches included two hats, one made from a box of Kleenex, another made from spaghetti. "It's good for travel," he joked, as the model broke off a strand and started to chew on it.

But while Miyake's designs have an other-worldly quality, he also revealed himself to be a very practical designer.

He noted that his designs can be washed and worn again within three hours -- unlike the earlier Italian designer Fortuny, with whom he is often compared, whose designs had to be sent to Venice for cleaning.Another key concern is the environment, he said. While chemicals are necessary for some of his techniques, he insists his factory purifies its waste water "so fish can swim in it." He is a strong advocate of recycling and says he is always searching for more eco-friendly ways of manufacturing.

And, like many designers, he is strongly aware of the role traditional designs and techniques play in making clothing. He said he is continually developing them not just from his homeland of Japan but also from India and China, and looking for ways to go beyond them. "If we can't make traditions suitable for today's lifestyle, they will die out," he said.

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