How Issey Miyake’s innovative pleats continue to inspire generations of designers

Leading houses such as Jil Sander, Haider Ackermann, Christopher Kane, Marni and Loewe are among those exploring the ultra-fine plissé technique

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 February, 2017, 5:02pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 February, 2017, 5:55pm

Pleats have been around for decades but micro-pleating, or plissé, is having a reboot as designers take inspiration for spring from Issey Miyake’s innovative Pleats Please line of the 1990s.

The reference was particularly strong at Jil Sander, where Rodolfo Paglialunga explored both volume and pleating in his spring-summer 2017 collection for dresses and skirts, using shades of honey, peach, light blue and primrose. The pleats gave a streamlined look to skirts and lateral pleating provided volume around the shoulders and sleeves – and bounced like springs as the models moved.

Haider Ackermann is known for his draping and wrapping, so ultra-fine pleating is a new development for him. His Miyake-style pleating for spring offers an elongating effect and works whether in black, nude, copper or a dynamic metallic chartreuse, as seen on a long plissé tank dress and a pantsuit.

The earliest experiments in creating finely pleated dresses took place in Venice at the start of the 20th century, by Mariano Fortuny. They were based on ancient Greek tunics and used yards and yards of richly coloured silk in a secret process. These fluid plissé gowns caused an outcry at the time for how they clung to the body. Fortuny dresses are held in museums or fetch high prices at auction.

Micro-pleating today uses heat and pressure to keep lightweight polyester material in shape, whereas Fortuny’s customers would have to return their silk gowns if the pleats needed to be reset.

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Miyake began his experiments in fine pleating in 1988, and the first pieces appeared in his Issey Miyake spring-summer 1989 collection.

He introduced the technique in T-shirts and spent years working on it before he launched the innovative Pleats Please line in 1993. Unlike Fortuny and others, Miyake designed the garment shape first and then pleated the finished form. The conventional method was the opposite: pleat the fabric then cut it to the design.

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Miyake had created a line that combined elegance with simplicity and function, and it was an immediate hit for its versatility and easy-care attributes. One of the greatest devotees of Pleats Please is leading British fashion commentator Suzy Menkes, who is often spotted in the front row in a blue or berry toned outfit from the line.

Consuela Castiglioni, in her swansong spring-summer 2017 collection for Marni, turned to fine pleating as one of the themes. Her plissé experiments resulted in softly draping pleated fabrics that created broken sculptural effects around billowing sleeves and waistlines.

Christopher Kane was another designer to embrace the plissé look, using it as a recurring theme in his current spring collection from the opening look (a finely pleated pale pink dress veiled in black lace) to the liquid metallic lamé dresses at the close, which were teamed with crystal-embellished Crocs.

At Loewe, designer Jonathan Anderson used the finest pleating with fringing, raw edges, patchwork and natural fibres for softly structured dresses and coats that hinted at the brand’s Spanish heritage but looked totally modern. Anderson is pioneering a way of using plissé in a deconstructed manner, in stark contrast to the streamlined looks of Fortuny and Miyake.