The Epoch Of A-Poc

A few years ago Issey Miyake had a crisis of conscience. "I became a fashion designer to make clothes for the people, not to be a top couturier in the French tradition," the 63-year-old Miyake said recently, seated in his spacious, modern headquarters in Tokyo. Yet there he was, "a society designer," as he puts it now, with a hint of disdain. "I questioned everything. I said, 'I am a liar'."

Since then Miyake has gone back to basics. In 2000 he rolled out A-POC--or A Piece of Cloth--clothing that's cut from a single piece of woven or knit tubular fabric. The design is the realization of a utopian idea that Miyake has carried with him since the 1960s: to create "universal clothing," inexpensive items that anyone can wear on any occasion. Last month in London, with the help of his new team of twentysomething assistants--"I love their energy and their ideas!" he says--Miyake presented the latest A-POC line. (In keeping with its revolutionary concept, Miyake does not show A-POC on the runway during fashion week but instead does "demonstrations" periodically during the year. "A-POC," he says, "has no epoch.") The designs, as always with Miyake, are avant-garde, in bold colors like aquamarine, butter-cup yellow and strawberry red, and in stark, straight-edged shapes that never the less take on the curves of the body.

When the line was introduced, Miyake encouraged wearers to take scissors and fashion each item as they like--change a V neck into a scoop neck, a maxi into a mini, hack off the sleeves or cut out the back. But these days A-POC has grown from a collection of simple snip-and-wear jersey (known as "Baguette") to include more complicated creations, like a cotton-nylon knit flannel suit or a quadruple-weave supershrunk cotton T shirt with mini-smocking.

Miyake created A-POC with help from his chief textile engineer, Dai Fujiwara. One morning Miyake called in Fujiwara, explained his idea and instructed him to focus on knitwear, because, as Miyake says, "the future of fashion is light, durable clothes." As it happened, Fujiwara had been tinkering with an old knitting machine that he had found in an abandoned barn outside Tokyo, trying to figure out how he could meld traditional technology with computers to come up with a new way to produce fabrics. Miyake saw Fujiwara's newfangled contraption as a way to realize his dream, and told the young engineer to keep experimenting.

The resulting method is quite simple: a single thread is fed into a computer-driven knitting or weaving machine that churns out a tube about five feet wide, like a giant tube sock. The seams of the garment--be it a dress, a jacket, pants or mittens--are woven directly into the fabric and are outlined, like paper dolls. Once cut along the seams, the raw edges of this high-tech knit fabric do not unravel--the garment is literally ready to wear straight out of the weaving and cutting machines. No sewing required.

Miyake decided then and there to stop his work as a high-fashion designer, handed over the ready-to-wear duties to one of his proteges, Naoki Takizawa, and focused on A-POC. Fujiwara has since refined the manufacturing process, so A-POC is now produced on two computer-operated machines outside Tokyo--with patents pending. He is already experimenting with other uses for the A-POC principle, like a line of goofy beanbag chairs called Mobile, with arms and hands like a human's. "We can apply A-POC to planes, cars, homes--anything that involves fabric," Fujiwara says. "It's really limitless."

With its easy-to-wear ethic and accessible pricing--from $50 for a handbag to $750 for a coat--A-POC has become the most successful line in the Miyake empire. But most important, it has fulfilled Miyake's lifelong wish to dress the masses well. "A-POC unleashes the freedom of imagination," he says. "It's for people who are curious, who have inner energy--the energy of life and living." And that, for Miyake, is what fashion has always been about.