Fashion: Clothes that grow on you

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The Independent Culture
FUTURISM as a fashion statement never really caught on. There was a brief flurry of chain mail and PVC in the early Sixties and then the future was past. Those ergonomic cat-suits we were all going to be wearing by the Nineties never made it off the Starship Enterprise. Instead fashion just went backwards and forwards through the last five decades - Thirties, Forties, Seventies, Sixties, Forties, Eighties - fuelling every fear-of-the-millennium theory on its way. Far from striving for greater practicality and ease, designers went pastiche crazy and clothes - leggings apart - just got more difficult.

There were exceptions, notably Issey Miyake. Ever since he opened his first design studio in Tokyo in 1970, he has produced clothes which, though they look difficult (the idle customer rifling along the hangers is sometimes confounded by their cut and method), come to life when they have a human form inside them. They have a combination of comfort and creativity rarely found in high fashion. They need a level of commitment and confidence to wear them. And they are very expensive - men's and women's jackets sell for around pounds 1,000. For most people, then, they are garments to admire at a distance; little glimmers of creativity in the gloom of repeats.

In the early Eighties, Miyake branched out with a second line called Plantation. These loose kaftans and slacks and cleverly wrapped tunics were - and are - much loved by the designocracy, particularly as they elegantly concealed incipient middle-age spread, but they were too artsy for most people's city lives, and still counted as an expensive luxury.

There is no evidence that Miyake deliberately set about starting a third, 'cheap' label at the end of the Eighties, but he did discover a cheap fabric just in time for the recession - an extra-lightweight permanently pleated polyester; anti-static, perspiration-absorbent and fast-drying; you could hand wash, machine wash or dry-clean it, it needed no ironing, and folded into a tiny flat square.

This allowed Miyake to introduce a genuinely modern concept in clothing. The fabric lent itself to the most basic, two-dimensional shapes, but expanded around even the largest three-dimensional bodies, curving and skimming and concealing and revealing as it went. He established a range of nine standard, subtle colours available through the year, adding seasonal extras (four bright in spring, four pastel in summer), then kept on adding pieces - tunics, trousers, jackets, skirts, vests, coats - which could be worn alone or together. As a range, it had all the cliches of mix'n'match, with the edge of truly revolutionary design.

It still isn't cheap - from pounds 95 for a vest to pounds 255 for a coat - but it has the potential for evening or day wear. And I know several people who have worn it elegantly throughout their entire pregnancy. That, it seems to me, is futurism.

(Photograph omitted)

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