With its tiered roof of interlocking clay tiles, latticed wooden exterior and exposed beams, the new Issey Miyake Kyoto flagship, located in the city’s Nakagyo area, is more than just a store; it’s a celebration of one of Kyoto’s best-known traditional structures — the machiya (merchant townhouse).
For Issey Miyake, famed for weaving together cutting-edge design with traditional Japanese values and craftsmanship, the 132-year-old machiya is the result of years of searching for the ideal space for its first stand-alone store in Kyoto, a city steeped in historical significance.
Conceived by Naoto Fukasawa, a longtime Issey Miyake design collaborator and current director of The Japan Folk Crafts Museum, the structure’s overarching palette of soft grays is inspired by the color of sumi (charcoal) and highlights the machiya’s original architectural features. Walls, sheathed in plaster blended with charcoal, meet a slightly duskier shade of concrete floor, while overhead wooden beams accentuate the structure’s high ceiling and open mezzanine. Letting in natural light from the rear is a glass wall that looks out onto a slate path that cuts through a bed of smooth gray pebbles and leads to another traditional feature, the machiya’s kura (storehouse), now the Issey Miyake Kyoto gallery space.
Like Fukasawa’s meticulous use of modulated grays, which reportedly included checking the shade of each of the pebbles, the collection of garments and accessories on the first floor is thoughtfully chosen to match the ambience of the space. Against one wall you’ll find selections from Issey Miyake Men and Homme Plisse Miyake in an exquisitely tailored study of function and comfort, while opposite geometric Bao Bao Issey Miyake bags hang in complementing accent colors. In between, large glass-and-wood display cases draw light and attention to other bags and accessories, including watches, glasses and hats.
The gray color scheme, crafted and applied by traditional Kyoto plasterers, extends to the exterior of the small Kura gallery, which will host several events a year. Its inaugural exhibition — a presentation of works by Ikko Tanaka — pairs faithful replicas of the renowned late graphic designer’s vibrant prints with pieces from the Ikko Tanaka Issey Miyake No. 3 collection. It’s an unexpected riot of colors that continues on the machiya’s wooden mezzanine shop floor, where other pieces from the collection can also be found.
Outside, in the pebble-carpeted courtyard, a return to subtle details enhances the space’s meditative quality. In spring, a dankoubai (Japanese spice tree) promises to punctuate the grays with yellow buds; in summer, a yamaboshi (Japanese strawberry tree) will bloom white, while in autumn it will bear red berries, signaling the passing season. Similarly, the storefront’s traditional ramie noren, a discreet design by Katsumi Asaba, will be rotated from off-white to natural ramie to black.
Recently, the city of Kyoto, which estimates it loses 800 machiya every year, launched legal and monetary initiatives to encourage the restoration of its historical architecture. There have since been townhouse conversions to cafes, hotels, residences and boutiques. Issey Miyake Kyoto is one of the rare few, however, where the machiya — its history and aesthetics — resonates with a contemporary brand’s values and produces a harmonious synergy of concept and content.
Ikko Tanaka: Past and present
A graduate of Kyoto City Specialist School of Arts (today’s Kyoto City University of Arts), Ikko Tanaka (1930-2002) is renowned for uniting Western modernist design with Japanese aesthetics, drawing from the Rimpa school of painting, ukiyo-e and traditional crafts.
The Kura’s debut exhibition “Ikko Tanaka Issey Miyake” celebrates his bold iconic motifs and vivid abstract designs — often a source of inspiration for Issey Miyake — with a vibrant display of faithfully replicated prints from two of his series, “Gradation (letters and characters)” and “Work: Q.”
Central to the space stand matching garments from the Ikko Tanaka Issey Miyake No. 3 collection, silk-screen printed by Kyoto artisans and purposely designed to showcase Tanaka’s innovations in a dynamic manner.