Irving Penn was commissioned to photograph Issey Miyake's clothes for an editorial feature in US Vogue in 1983. The Japanese designer was so blown away by the resulting images, claiming to suddenly see his designs with fresh eyes, that he approached Penn to photograph his next collection. This marked the beginning of a collaboration that would continue for 13 years, one that is currently being celebrated with a new exhibition at Tokyo museum 21_21 Design Sight entitled Irving Penn and Issey Miyake: Visual Dialogue.
From 1987 to 1999, Penn photographed all of Issey Miyake's biennial Paris collections, resulting in more than 250 photographs, many of which appear in the exhibition, accompanied by Penn's preliminary sketches, a short film by Pascal Roulin, drawings by Michael Crawford detailing the process behind the Penn and Miyake creations, and posters by Ikko Tanaka.
The relationship between the two men was characterised by a strong mutual admiration but also a curious distance. Miyake never attended the photo sessions and Penn never went to one of Miyake's fashion shows. They never even discussed what they were trying to achieve, which is just the way Miyake wanted it. For him, the point of the collaboration was inspiration - and to be surprised.
As Miyake later commented: 'I was looking for the one person who could look at my clothing, hear my voice, and answer me back through his own creation. I searched long for such a person and found in Penn-san.'
The exhibition, which features both the individual and collaborative work of the two artists, runs until 8 April, 2012.