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Hiroshima mon amour: Issey Miyake 三宅 一生, 22 April 1938 – 5 August 2022

“There you are at another preview

In a pose, the artist and you

To look so loud may be considered tacky

Collectors wear black clothes by Issey Miyake”

– Pet Shop Boys, Flamboyant, 2003

In a poignant follow-on to this website’s preceding article on visiting Hiroshima, news has flashed up that the city’s most famous son, Japanese clothing designer Issey Miyake, has died aged 84 — just a day prior to the anniversary of the nuclear bomb that devastated the area and ultimately killed his mother.

Miyake achieved international fame through his innovative, technology-driven pleated designs and when crease-free clothing wasn’t enough he later helped revolutionise the fragrance industry to boot.

Throughout his history-making career, the anti-fashion, avant-garde designer found fans in seminal figures across disciplines and eras. But pop culture’s obsession with Miyake arguably began with Grace Jones. The striking model turned entertainer turned to Miyake frequently throughout her career, wearing many of his most daring, and sculptural, designs — most memorably with his hot-off-the-press moulded bustier in 1980, which Grace was wearing underneath a leather jacket when she famously slapped the BBC’s Russell Harty live on air. 

Later, Apple founder Steve Jobs famously wore a succession of Miyake’s black turtlenecks almost like a second skin.

Other notable devotees included architect Zaha Hadid and the Pet Shop Boys’ Chris Lowe* who asked aloud in the duo’s one-off Annually in 1988: “Isn’t Issey Miyake a genius? He used to be an architect — as indeed did I — which I think explains his sculptural skills.” Indeed, The Other One was so fond of his Issey items that colleague Neil Tennant quipped, only half-jokingly, “Let’s face it, Chris, he was nothing till you wore those glasses.”

In 2009, Miyake spoke for the first time about his experiences as a survivor of the nuclear attack on Hiroshima in August 1945. The couturier was seven at the time, telling the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun how he heard the boom as he went into a classroom after morning assembly. After he found his mother at home, she told him to leave for the countryside. The after-effects still left him with a permanent limp

Throughout his almost fifty years at the forefront of fashion he had skirted questions about the episode throughout his career in an attempt to avoid becoming known as “the designer who survived atomic bomb,” but was eventually persuaded to reveal his memories of the event in support of President Obama’s pledge to seek global nuclear disarmament. This is the full text of the piece he gave to the New York Times at the time.

In April, President Obama pledged to seek peace and security in a world without nuclear weapons. He called for not simply a reduction, but elimination. His words awakened something buried deeply within me, something about which I have until now been reluctant to discuss.

I realised that I have, perhaps now more than ever, a personal and moral responsibility to speak out as one who survived what Mr. Obama called the “flash of light.”

On Aug. 6, 1945, the first atomic bomb was dropped on my hometown, Hiroshima. I was there, and only seven years old. When I close my eyes, I still see things no one should ever experience: a bright red light, the black cloud soon after, people running in every direction trying desperately to escape  I remember it all. Within three years, my mother died from radiation exposure.

I have never chosen to share my memories or thoughts of that day. I have tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to put them behind me, preferring to think of things that can be created, not destroyed, and that bring beauty and joy. I gravitated toward the field of clothing design, partly because it is a creative format that is modern and optimistic.

I tried never to be defined by my past. I did not want to be labeled “the designer who survived the atomic bomb,” and therefore I have always avoided questions about Hiroshima. They made me uncomfortable.

But now I realise it is a subject that must be discussed if we are ever to rid the world of nuclear weapons. There is a movement in Hiroshima to invite Mr. Obama to Universal Peace Day on Aug. 6  the annual commemoration of that fateful day. I hope he will accept. My wish is motivated by a desire not to dwell on the past, but rather to give a sign to the world that the American president’s goal is to work to eliminate nuclear wars in the future.

Last week, Russia and the United States signed an agreement to reduce nuclear arms. This was an important event. However, we are not naïve: no one person or country can stop nuclear warfare. In Japan, we live with the constant threat from our nuclear-armed neighbour North Korea. There are reports of other countries acquiring nuclear technology, too. For there to be any hope of peace, people around the world must add their voices to President Obama’s.

If Mr. Obama could walk across the Peace Bridge in Hiroshima  whose balustrades were designed by the Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi as a reminder both of his ties to East and West and of what humans do to one another out of hatred  it would be both a real and a symbolic step toward creating a world that knows no fear of nuclear threat. 

Every step taken is another step closer to world peace.

Edited by Steve Pafford

*PSB keyboard merchant Chris Lowe was instrumental in helping popularise Miyake’s iconic designs in the 1980s. In particular, the mirrored flip-up Shades sunglasses sported on the cover of 1986’s Suburbia EP; and then in 1987, the “Carling Black Label” inflatable rubber jacket he wore when the Pet Shop Boys performed Rent on ITV’s Live from the London Palladium TV show. The “other one” later described the outfit as “completely over the top. It had a lot of attitude and was ideal for wearing on the London Palladium show because it was so far removed from a typical showbusiness look.” In other words, an “out of the ordinary” costume designed to shock, even reducing show host Jimmy Tarbuck—a veteran comic not easily lost for words—to utterly dumbfounded bemusement.

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