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In partnership with HaaT, creative director Makiko Minagawa talks tradition, textiles and a half-century of collaborating with Issey Miyake.

For nearly three decades, Makiko Minagawa served under renowned designer Issey Miyake as textile director of the Miyake Design Studio. Then, in 2000, she laun-ched her own brand, HaaT, under Issey Miyake Inc. The collection’s name contains linguistic references to three essential themes of her creative philosophy: HaaT, Sanskrit for “village market,” speaks to the collection’s diverse spirit, from its eclectic use of textiles to the variety of aesthetic ideas it presents; Heart emphasizes the haptic and emotional qualities found in textiles; and Haath, Sanskrit for “hands,” underlines the unity of Indian and Japanese craftsmanship at the collection’s core. To mark Haat’s showcase of Khadi: Indian Craftsmanship, an exhibition held at Issey Miyake’s flagship store in New York’s Tribeca in summer 2019, Minagawa discusses the importance of keeping craftsmanship alive.

How did your relationship with Issey Miyake begin?
Around 1971, Mr. Miyake had just returned from Paris where he came up with the idea to make a collection using only textiles made in Japan but which would be comparable to the ubiquitous American blue jeans. I had just graduated from college, and it sounded like an interesting job so I started working for him, though not yet as a full-time employee. He didn’t want to be influenced by other cultures, so I looked for various traditional, durable fabrics in Japan, such as a cotton used for lining men’s kimonos and the soles of tabs [traditional socks]. Mr. Miyake wanted textiles that “no one had ever seen,” but designing textiles is not his field of expertise. That’s what he asked me to do.

For HaaT, you spend considerable time searching for local craftspeople. How do you develop those collaborations?
There are so many unknown people with excellent craftsmanship out there. I love working with the people who I’ve discovered—inspiring each other and creating something together. It’s crucial that these craftsmen carry on their art for future generations, which means someone has to give them work. We must support cultural inheritance. There is now an Issey Miyake store in Kyoto, and I feel I need to introduce craftsmanship from Kyoto, so I’ve been focusing on this more than ever. I also do similar collaborations each season with craftsmen from different regions of Japan.

For the exhibition Khadi: Indian Craftsmanship you’ve decorated Issey Miyake Tribeca with billowing roles of khadi. Why did you decide to focus on this particular fabric?
I was inspired by the legacy of [the late Indian conservationist] Martand Singh. Nowadays so many fabrics are machine-made, and I wanted to go back to basics—the hand-spun, hand-woven fabrics that are the origin of all fabrics. Having an opportunity to explain about such heritage is important. There are so many cultural techniques in fabric making that need to be passed on.

What do you want people to notice about your collections?
I want people to notice the details and unique textures. Of course color is important, but as long as there’s sun and light, various textures are born. Whether it’s embroidery or fringes, details give expression to a piece. Unlike untextured, machine-made garments flattened by ironing, these have subtle nuances. The story behind a garment also makes it stand out from the tons of clothing in the world. Sometimes it’s difficult to communicate stories to the customer, but making garments for the sake of getting attention or recognition is not something that resonates with me. So I will just keep on explaining and telling the stories behind my pieces.

What type of progress are you focused on now?
When I came to New York this summer, I learned a concept: “sharing” at a restaurant. In Japan, maybe because the portions are small, we don’t use the word “share” for meals. I thought this idea of “sharing things with other people” could be applied to something else, too. For example, in the past, if the quality of a textile was not what we ordered, we’d reject it. But now, I think we need to utilize these textiles for something else. If the factory mistakes are unintentional, I’d like to give them life by creating something new, such as applying handiwork to them. It’s a bit different from recycling; it’s the notion of mottainai [regret over waste] in our culture.

This feature was produced in partnership with HaaT.

  • Words:
    Charles Shafaieh
  • Photograph:
    Claire Cottrell
  • Words:
    Charles Shafaieh
  • Photograph:
    Claire Cottrell
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