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Phebe Wahl | Photo: Courtesy of Shiseido | May 7, 2019
A deeper dive into the world of Issey Miyake and his iconic fragrance collection reveals a refreshingly fluid meditation on the modern spirit.
It seems only fitting fashion designer Issey Miyake, a native of an island nation, would handpick water as the central theme for his fragrances. But, much like the dazzling, complex pleats of his Pleats Please collections, the world of Miyake is beautifully layered.
Born in 1938 in Hiroshima, Japan, Miyake famously survived the atomic bomb in 1945, but lost most of his family to the attack. As a child, the designer was influenced by the transient and fragile beauty of his surroundings—snow falling on roofs, fish darting in ponds and the scent of cherry trees in bloom. Miyake studied graphic design at Tokyo’s Tama Art University and, in 1965, moved to Paris to enroll in the esteemed dressmaking and tailoring school École de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne. After his formal schooling, Miyake sharpened his skills working with myriad fashion legends, including Hubert de Givenchy and Guy Laroche in Paris, and Geoffrey Beene in Manhattan. Soon, Miyake Design Studio was born, and the designer’s aesthetic—which captures a symphonic blend of East and West, his Japanese roots and modern nomadic lifestyle, ancient handcrafts and technology, and tradition and avant-garde—was formed.
In 1992, Miyake, in collaboration with renowned perfumer Jacques Cavallier-Belletrud, applied his key design principals of harmony and purity for a debut fragrance, L’Eau d’Issey, which quickly became an international hit. The name is a play on words (pronounced en français, it sounds like “odyssey”). Inspired by water, the groundbreaking scent pioneered a wave of oceanic perfumes, including Miyake’s own men’s cologne, L’Eau d’Issey Pour Homme, two years later.
L’Eau d’Issey is an aquatic floral scent with transparent top notes of rose water and cyclamen. Middle notes of peony, white lily and carnation reveal base notes of musk, Osmanthus and precious woods. Always keeping a keen eye on design, Miyake worked with Fabien Baron on the frosted bottle for L’Eau d’Issey—famously inspired by the sight of the moon over the Eiffel Tower from his Parisian apartment at midnight. The cologne, L’Eau d’Issey Pour Homme, opens with yuzu, while cinnamon and nutmeg middle notes uncover an unexpected accord of sandalwood. “The best fragrance is the scent of water—the fragrance of dew and rain falling on plants,” Miyake famously said. “Water is the essential element, a source of life and energy. A perfume that, like a garment, moves to suit the woman, her skin. A perfume that embraces a woman.”
Perhaps it’s this aqueous essence of L’Eau d’Issey and L’Eau d’Issey Pour Homme that ensures the fragrances endure. Much like the fluid fabrics of Miyake’s fashion collections, it’s the wearer that shapes the scent.
Originally published in the April/May issue of Silicon Valley