Fashion: Cut out and keep

Would you pay pounds 480 for a piece of cloth? Well, it is by Issey Miyake, and you can make a complete wardrobe from it. There's a dress, a bag, a pair of knickers ... even a pointy hat. Susannah Frankel follows the dotted lines. Photographs by Sandro Sodano. Styling by Sophia Neophitou
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Pass me the scissors - NOW!" is not what a fashion editor wants to hear upon arrival at a photographer's studio of a morning - a morning that's not even 1 April, actually. Why not take a knife to hundreds of pounds worth of designer merchandise and not even care? What's money, after all?

In this particular instance, however, the designer in question will not, we are reliably assured, be sending in an invoice or even an angry letter complaining that his precious creation has been, well, violated for want of a better word. Rather, Issey Miyake - for it is he - the godfather of Japanese fashion and, to many, still the world's most inspired designer, positively encourages such intervention. The thinking goes that we're the ones who are going to end up wearing the garment, so why not adapt it to suit our needs? In a world where designers (predominantly male) can be all-too-ready to dictate to women what they feel they should wear, it's a refreshing, democratic, approach. But then who would expect anything less of Miyake, fashion's greatest innovator.

This latest happily interactive venture - just another to add to an impressive array of groundbreaking contributions - is labelled A-Poc (A Piece of Cloth), which is exactly what pounds 480 will buy you. A-Poc is not just any old bolt of fabric, however. In a single piece of cloth the customer will find a dress - a dress so long that, when worn it forms a pretty puddle on the floor or a mid-calf- length version; a dress with short or three-quarter-length sleeves or even ones which transform into mittens covering the hands completely. Or maybe the prospective buyer would prefer a skirt and top combination? Miyake to the rescue! Simply cut along the tiny threads holding each garment to the cloth and, Bob's your uncle, as they say. Also hidden in the cloth is a pointy hood/hat, a drawstring bag, a purse, a pair of knickers, socks and a bra. There's even a special water bottle holder, just large enough to accommodate a bottle of Evian. No (fashionable) stone has been left unturned.

As a single piece, A-Poc is so lovely it seems almost painful to cut into it, woven as it is with its own sweet patterns that include tiny pairs of scissors to indicate exactly where each garment should be cut, and each piece is also dated. Like so much of Miyake's work, A-Poc 1999 is likely to become a collector's item in the not-too-distant future.

For the moment, A-Poc comes in bright green, red, white and rather more sober navy. There is A-Poc King (with a roll- or high V-neck dress) and A-Poc Queen (with a more sexy, plunging neckline). It might seem daunting to attack A-Poc with your kitchen scissors but, that is, after all, what its designer intended. Once you've created your capsule wardrobe (oh, and the whole lot packs into the largest of the A-Poc handbags) it looks not unlike innovative Eighties design company Body Map at its finest, only where you cut the seams, little tufts of material are left behind giving your A-Poc a slightly otherworldy, though always gentle, appearance. This is very Issey Miyake.

Miyake intends to develop A-Poc in much the same way as he has the immensely successful Pleats Please line. This, like A-Poc, started life as part of the designer's main line and with prices to match. Through increased popularity and thus mass-production it is by now reasonably priced. "My first dream," Miyake once told me, "and why I first decided to open my studio, was that I thought to myself, `If I could one day make clothes that have the impact of T-shirts and jeans, I would be very excited.' But the more I worked, the more I felt far away from doing so. I was always doing such heavy things, far away from the people. And then I was thinking, `Are you stupid?' Don't you remember why you started designing in the first place?' And then I thought, `OK, Pleats Please.' So I started to think how to make it, how to wash it, how to co-ordinate it, even how to pack it. And I worked hard on keeping the price down."

So, for autumn/winter 2000, A-Poc Alien is due to arrive at a store near you. By then jackets complete with zips and buttons will have evolved. A-Poc Eskimo, meanwhile, is a cuddly winter take on the original with cute stuffed seams. Finally A-Poc Cupid - the individual pieces already cut out for you so that you can buy just one or two items - will be available later on this summer.

Issey Miyake's noble career spans three decades. That is a long time in fashion. It is a sobering thought that, in his early 60s, he remains one of very few fashion designers to truly challenge our notions of dress. A-Poc is no exception. As easy to wear as designer clothing can be, washable, packable and very, very beautiful, it is just one in a memorable catalogue of the most brilliantly conceived designs