Ise is a small Japanese city in the central Mie Prefecture located on the eastern edge of the Kii Peninsula. Here lies a big shrine complex centred on two main buildings that are the heart of the Shinto religion and it is famous for its tradition that has lasted over 1.300 years: every two decades the old shrines are dismantled, and new ones are built on an adjacent site. Why? Among the meanings of the ritual, there's the idea of using the process to keep the buildings forever new and forever ancient and original at the same time. It's intriguing, and above all, it's the perfect tool to understand our story.
The talk I had with Satoshi Kondo, class of 1984 and the newly appointed Head Designer of the Issey Miyake Collection - that debuted last September with the Spring/Summer 2020 - reminded me of my Ise Jingu memories. I visited the location in 2013 (the year of the previous reconstruction, the next one will be in 2033) and felt the new energy springing from the fervent renewal works.
"I think that the past is significant, it stimulates as a source of inspiration", explained the designer. "But I wouldn't necessarily consider the heritage as limiting when I design I always think about Mr Miyake's philosophy, but I figure it out as something ongoing rather than gone. Once you have this kind of mindset, you can keep his work adding my layers that reflect my point of view". Past and future merge in the creative approach of Kondo's vision, yet simultaneously, traditions are kept in Ise: skills of shrine builders and craftsmen in various fields are passed on from generation to generation to preserve abilities and cultures that in today's fast world would disappear.
"In terms of design, there's always something that needs to stay unchanged, but at the same time, if we need to create a new fabric, we cannot stick at what we were before" explained Kondo. "Of course there's great attention on quality to maintain our standards, but we are open to new possibilities. We need to be the ones to judge what to use or not, when and how. Think about the speed of today's world, I feel that if I have to choose if accelerate or slow down, I personally would be more the analogue type. Today every information is just one click away, but I think that as a company there is always the need of doing as much as possible with our hands. The sense of craftsmanship will be irreplaceable. Experience is unique. For example, if I want to see a certain location, I prefer to go personally rather than just search it on the internet. Actually, I'm more that kind of person. There's always something you will discover when you see things and places with your eyes, I'm not satisfied with just a beautiful picture seen online", he stated.
Despite the peculiar and gentle gestures of his society, Kondo is not the Japanese you would expect, he is confident and freely expresses his smart attitude. He is aware of the responsibilities, but he is also keen on which are the brand needs, and you feel it. The first collection presented last season was a big move into a new dimension. The Miyake iconic style always risks to be a golden cage, but he enlightened it injecting the positivity that fashion should always have. "As you saw in the show the models were smiling, a simple act which is unusual in a contemporary fashion show. That's the sort of the idea and the message I wanted to convey. To me, joy means putting on your clothes and enjoy the feeling, whatever you put on you should be happy, this is the beauty of fashion", said with Japanese ingenuity. Actually, the addiction of many meanings in today's collections is distracting from the sense of beauty, designers need to excite the audiences explaining what clothes often don't reveal. Kondo works on the reverse, he wants the clothes to express beauty and joy by themselves, without any filter.
The show formula, conceived by famous dancer and choreographer Daniel Ezralow, was very engaging even though a bit long and old-fashioned, comparing today's shows' standards. Still, simplifying the direction and reducing the performances parts, it could become modern yet keeping the DNA. The most challenging part indeed. Miyake's world has been suspended in a timeless dimension for a long time, always trying to find a sharp image and revamp the desire around it, in contradiction with many other brands which keeps "welcome" the iconic Japanese Maison codes.
Brigitte Lacombe is working on a new and calm imaginary that reflects the new course led by Kondo and the collection reworked many classics in a fresher way. Modern-day fashion tricks should also be an option, what about starting with focused collaborations which could fortify the process? The designer didn't agree: "I haven't considered any sort of it", he clarified. "I believe that my work is to have the full control of every step and the idea of opening to another company it's not under our radars so far. Of course, on the other hand, I'm very open to working with companies that could support our technological development of new material or fabric." Kondo fully gets the company philosophy, keeping Miyake outside any fashion trend, reaffirming it and trying to update all the aesthetic staples that made it last. Communication strategies are another facet he is working on. Like it or not, these are often even more important than the garment itself to boost the success of a company.
Despite the Japanese hesitancy in regards to these new platforms, the designer has definite ideas about it: "I personally learned from Mr Miyake (who treats every single photo as a treasure) to present our visuals with the proper timing and format, but I'm also aware that people want everything right away without caring about formality or presentation. I know that we still are not so active on social media, for example, and I think, as a company, need to really work on this," he clarified. It seems that Satoshi Kondo is building the bridge that will carry the brand in its new era. He went to the core and once got it, he is rewriting it, leaving behind the heritage bonds.