Here’s a fashion riddle: Name a brand that’s just as desirable to a Gen Z fashion lover as it is to a septuagenarian retiree. Pleats Please Issey Miyake, celebrating its 30th anniversary this month, has become exactly that—a line of amorphous, finely pleated, colorful garments that offer intergenerational appeal to creative types, young and old alike.
The story behind the brand’s instantly recognizable pleats began back in the late ’80s. Miyake found what seemed to be a simple folded scarf in the atelier. In fact, it was an experiment: The studio’s longtime textile director, Makiko Minagawa, seeking new materials, had heat-pleated the cloth. Its intricate, three-dimensional texture captivated Miyake and led to four years of research, culminating in the brand’s signature technique: Polyester fabric is cut and sewn at three times its intended size and then heat-pleated, resulting in clothing that retains its shape, even when thrown in a washing machine or squashed in a suitcase. The wrinkle-proof, travel-friendly pieces were originally tested on dancers from the Frankfurt Ballet Company, and Miyake found that the fluidity of the styles perfectly complemented their movement. In 1993, the brand formally launched, with its name deriving from the fact that the designer liked the words “pleasing pleats.”
For years, Pleats Please was a label for those who considered themselves in-the-know—and tended to be of a certain age. Fashion critic Suzy Menkes wore the pieces front row, while architect Zaha Hadid was a lifelong fan. The label was stylish, but never trendy—until recently. “Issey was seen as one of the elite brands that only the true fashion cognoscenti wore, but thanks to the internet and Gen Z’s curious nature, it’s become a closet mainstay,” says Johnny Valencia, owner of Pechuga Vintage, a favorite among Hollywood stylists looking to dress their young clients in archival fashion.
You can also attribute the generational shift in part to Solange Knowles, who wore the brand while promoting her 2016 album A Seat at the Table. Suddenly it seemed young, cool, and subversive. Ssense, one of the internet generation’s go-to retailers, was quick to notice its potential, picking up the label in 2017. “It’s universally flattering, easily worn by diverse bodies, ageless, and offers endless styling opportunities,” says Brigitte Chartrand, the store’s vice president of womenswear buying. Now you’ll find style-conscious celebrities like Yara Shahidi and model Paloma Elsesser wearing Pleats Please in paparazzi photos and Instagram posts.
The brand’s continuing appeal isn’t just about its timelessness and body inclusivity, but also a reaction to trend fatigue and obsession with vintage design, according to Sara Maggioni, head of womenswear at WGSN, a trend forecasting agency. “A backlash against microtrends is really starting to gain momentum. Also, millennials and especially Gen Z are experiencing nostalgia for a time they have never known. Archival pieces from iconic designers often have that scarcity appeal to them,” she says.
Miyake died in 2022, which added to the rise in awareness. “Between January 2020 and [his] death in August 2022, searches for the brand surged by 457 percent, with the sharpest increase immediately following the news,” says Steve Dool, brand director at Depop, a popular resale site. It brought a renewed appreciation among Gen Z for the brand’s approach to comfort and design, says Ariella McCall, a top seller. “This generation cares about clothing that is sustainable and distinctive,” she adds.
In honor of the big anniversary, Pleats Please will be releasing a capsule collection of separates (from $315 for a scarf to $615 for trousers) in vivid shades and featuring the brand’s name in an abstract pattern. (The collection launches May 1.) As a nod to its origins, the campaign was cast with dancers as well as models—after all, these are clothes that look even better in motion.
This article appears in the May 2023 issue of ELLE.
Diana Tsui is a stylist and writer living in New York City. She also writes for The New York Times, W, Elle, and more. Previously she was the senior market editor at New York Magazine’s The Cut.