In Memory of Issey Miyake and L’Eau d’Issey

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In memory of Issey Miyake.

The legendary Japanese designer passed away on August 5th at the age of 84. He changed fashion by creating geometrical designs out of pleated fabrics, loose kaftans out of batik, and his signature Flying Saucer dresses. He also revolutionized perfumery by collaborating on a fragrance that smelled of water.

The iris-perfumed water that served as inspiration for L’Eau d’Issey is based on a custom called shoubu yu. On May 5th, Children’s Day, people in Japan take a bath with iris leaves. The leaves are sold in small bundles to be floated in an ofuro bathtub, and while the symbolism is good health, the delicate fragrance of iris leaves was one of the lasting memories for Mr. Miyake. He explained to Cavallier that he wanted to capture this specific scent in his fragrance.

Cavallier is a technically skilled perfumer renowned for bold creations such as YSL M7 or Givenchy Hot Couture, but he crafted an ingenious accord for L’Eau d’Issey. He blended floral notes of rose, peony and lily of the valley with the rooty coolness of iris. Rose essence is particularly pronounced, lending its metallic-honeyed warmth. Synthetic molecules such as Calone and hedione add a melon-like, dewy note to the fragrance and fill it with an opalescent glow. Bright green notes underscore the composition, evoking a sensation of petals and leaves floating on water. The sillage of L’Eau d’Issey is distinctive, even if light.

The bottle was designed by Mr. Miyake himself, representing the moonlit Eiffel Tower. The opaque matted glass and transparent scent provide one of the most memorable contrasts in modern perfumery to the extent that packaging is counted in the equation. The whole project was executed with much care, and every element of it was thought through.

By the 1990s, the heavy perfumes of the 1980s began to seem over the top and out of place. L’Eau d’Issey with its fresh character immediately captured everyone’s attention and quickly became a best-seller. It still ranks among the top-selling perfumes, and even if its watery effect smells of the early 1990s, it still charms with its elegance.

Issey Miyake continued to experiment with deconstructed designs and fabrics, while his perfume line evolved along its own path. L’Eau d’Issey is the fragrance he influenced the most. I still remember the first time I tried L’Eau d’Issey and how it moved me. Today when I smell it, I think of myself as a college student, hopeful and optimistic, and the scent makes me feel uplifted once again.

Have you ever worn perfumes (or clothes) by Issey Miyake? Do you remember the fragrance that struck you  as the most original thing you have ever smelled?

Image: Issey Miyake in Paris in 1998 by Denis Dailleux—Agence VU/Redux, some rights reserved.

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60 Comments

  • Andy: The original L’eau d’Issey is still the fragrance from this brand that moves me most. It is memorable and ubiquitous enough that it was a fragrance I knew I had smelled around me before I ever took an interest in perfume. I was unaware of Mr. Miyake’s deep and personal involvement in the L’Eau d’Issey project, but it certainly makes me like the fragrance even more. While I don’t really wear this perfume, I like to sample and revisit it on a semi-regular basis. I’ll think of the late designer and bathing with iris leaves the next time I smell it. August 12, 2022 at 8:19am Reply

    • Victoria: He was very active in his fragrance line, but this perfume had most of his contributions. I also find it the most interesting, and despite its ubiquity, it’s still an outstanding fragrance. The L’Homme version is also very good, by the way. August 12, 2022 at 8:27am Reply

  • deborah: I have purchased this parfume twice, I love it that much! I will wear today 🙂 August 12, 2022 at 9:07am Reply

  • Julie Basile: What a special tribute.
    This was one of the perfumes I really loved and a gift from my aunt Bev years ago it was such a pretty bottle and I never knew that it was a depiction of the Eiffel tower all my fragrances of the 70s particularly Chanel‘s Cristalle and the gardenia in Diane von Furstenberg‘s Tatiana in for evening Bal a Versailles- there was also a frosted bottle quelque fleurs ??? I got my first one at Neiman Marcus.

    I love to smell the perfume some of the old days I also think Versace has done a beautiful job on his perfume collection I love yellow diamonds and bright crystal they still look really pretty and it was fun to see them all lined up in the gorgeous Versace store in Manhattan. Also Chloe original. More recently I just found out that I prefer EDT is almost in every instance ED peas are completely different fragrances in the old days they were just a stronger version of the EDT. Ohhh Chanel 19 (green) and 22 (white flowers). Where are those beauties now? August 12, 2022 at 9:13am Reply

    • Sherry F.: I loved the bottle as well as the fragrance….I went through at least two bottles of this lovely fragrance and probably had to stop myself from repurchasing it. I still glance sideways with longing when I see that simple yet elegant bottle of perfume for sale. August 13, 2022 at 2:09pm Reply

    • Victoria: So many lovely perfumes from that period! August 15, 2022 at 11:02am Reply

  • Rhinda: What a beautiful and interesting tribute Victoria. August 12, 2022 at 9:18am Reply

  • Orestis: RIP. L’Eau d’Issey Pour Homme is one of my favorites even to this day. That distinct smell of the Yuzu fruit is what makes it unique and original. August 12, 2022 at 9:21am Reply

    • Victoria: It’s a clever touch in that fragrance. I also like it. August 15, 2022 at 11:03am Reply

  • Ariadne: It is lovely to learn about his perfume creation.
    Thank you!
    As a sewist I am very appreciative of his great generosity in sharing his clothing designs and techniques through the many patterns he published with Vogue patterns. It’s an understatement to say these patterns are interesting and enjoyable to make and wear! August 12, 2022 at 10:42am Reply

    • Victoria: How great that you can reproduce some of his patterns! His constructions were so ingenious. August 15, 2022 at 11:04am Reply

  • Fazal: Original Issey releases for both men and women are awesome. However, my favorite from Issey Miyake is Feu d’Issey. It was an instant love for me when I wore it first time so I was quite puzzled when I read later that it was a slow sell because the customers found it challenging and was in the market for a short time only. One another fragrance that I love and that seems to have quite a similar history to Feu d’Issey is Donna Karan Chaos. Ironically, both also came in distinctive but also beautiful bottles August 12, 2022 at 11:19am Reply

    • Victoria: Feu d’Issey was a marvel. I also liked it and didn’t understand why it was discontinued so quickly. August 15, 2022 at 11:05am Reply

  • Hamamelis: I remember very cleary smelling L’Eau D’Issey for the first time. The town I lived then, and the shop I was in. I bought it for my dearest friend, and she loved it. I never bought it for myself, but I will never forget that first sniff…what is this? This is so different! Thank you for bringing back that memory. August 12, 2022 at 11:44am Reply

  • CC: There is a street in Tokyo with a cluster of his stores that I walk by every day. I got used to this as “his” street and yes, L’Eau d’Issey was also my first “real” perfume. Lately I mostly thought of him as the designer who freed women from the kimono packaged rigidity, while keeping to the same 2D-to-3D idea and treating bodies as sculptures. He was influential through his worldly museum and curation as well, the 21_21. He survived the war and the Hiroshima bomb to fill the world with an entirely unique take on beauty. We have lost a joyful humanist and now I cross that street with a heavy heart. Inside the well lit stores, the staff glide against the white background and wear the colourful pleats like dancers on a stage. Thank you Victoria for these stories and for a moment of shared remembrance. August 12, 2022 at 12:28pm Reply

    • Victoria: He often used dancers to model his clothes, because he thought that the way they move brought out the beauty of his garments. August 15, 2022 at 11:06am Reply

  • Kathy: Dear Ms. Victoria: if anyone can make me want to try a perfume that sounds so much like what I don’t like (EL Estee is probably my desert island perfume) you will, with your carefully collected background facts and personal comments! RIP Mr. Miyake. August 12, 2022 at 12:29pm Reply

    • Victoria: I no longer wear it that often, but I think that it’s worth trying, just to know what that iconic fragrance smells like. August 15, 2022 at 11:07am Reply

  • Andrea: I knew very little of Issey Miyake and his background. Thank you , Victoria, for revealing his story so beautifully. The next time I reach for my L’Eau D’Issey I will remember. August 12, 2022 at 12:48pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you for reading, Andrea! August 15, 2022 at 11:07am Reply

  • a.: i’ve never before read about inspired issey miyake to create l’eau d’issey — thank you for sharing this fascinating backstory with us, victoria! RIP, mr. miyake. what a towering figure in both fashion and perfumery. l’eau de issey, along with ck one, are to me the defining fragrances of the early 90s. i can still conjure up l’eau de issey in my mind just by thinking about that time period. it certainly smelled completely original when it first debuted.

    i agree with another commenter that feu d’issey also smelled (and still smells) completely original to me, like nothing else. it has haunted me since i was able to test sample several years ago, and i recently found a full bottle on that auction site we love/loathe. it should arrive any day now… i hope it will be as promised (!) and if so, i shall wear it in remembrance of mr. miyake. August 12, 2022 at 1:33pm Reply

    • Victoria: Lucky you! Please let us know what it smells like to you now. August 15, 2022 at 11:08am Reply

      • a.: oh my goodness, my apologies for taking so long to reply to your request! i actually sprayed myself silly with it the day i received it, and wrote down my thoughts. in my summary i called it “an unusual and haunting fragrance that brings together sparkling citrus, creamy milk, fragrant rose and lily, sweet spices, and aromatic woods to uncannily evoke an intimate, enveloping warmth like its name suggests.” uncannily because one wouldn’t think those notes would evoke warmth (well, perhaps outside of the spices and woods) — nor would i think those notes would marry/ blend well together! but somehow, through the magic of skilled perfumery, they do. September 10, 2022 at 5:14pm Reply

        • Victoria: Thank you for letting me know! September 11, 2022 at 7:33am Reply

  • Andrew: My first exposure to Issey Miyake was watching reruns of “The Nanny.” In one episode, Sylvia (played by Renee Taylor) tries on an Issey Miyake dress. It was brown and form-fitting with horizontal pleats, some sort of padding around the shoulders, and an angular hat. Even as a boy and even though the suit was played for comedy (as Sylvia would never wear something like that), I knew that dress was special. By today’s standards, I still think it holds up as unique, interesting and avant-garde. I continue to think about it from time to time.

    Ten years later, I was helping to sell fragrance at Macy’s. The Issey Miyake vendor liked me, and one day she gave me a sample of L’eau d’Issey Sport. To me it smelled like a vodka tonic, complete with the lime garnish. I would not call it the MOST original thing I had ever smelled (that honor might go to Calyx or CdG Hinoki), but it had an arresting bergamot note that I had not smelled in a fragrance before or since. I’m sure I’ve smelled bergamot in fragrance hundreds of times, but something about how L’eau d’Issey Sport did it stuck in my mind. I bought a bottle a few years after and didn’t regret it.

    Another memory I have of Issey Miyake was the time I visited Tokyo. I remember walking around a department store, and I found the Issey Miyake section. Familiar enough with his genius at this point, I decided to take a look. I was immediately drawn to a woman’s top. I had never seen anything like it. It was so striking, I felt the need to take some time to take it in. From the V-neck collar were these large, micro-pleated fabric flower petals that branched out and away from the garment. The colors-white with gold accents-were pretty simple, but that was probably chosen to highlight the brilliant construction of the garment. My description doesn’t do it justice, but I thought about that top for months. It cemented my point-of-view on high fashion: that it should be be dynamic, novel, and interesting. It should make you wonder how such a concept was imagined and realized. It should be art, and high art at that.

    His line’s fashion shows are also noteworthy. I remember seeing clips of one where drones flew in and placed clothes on his models, which I personally find a refreshingly simple change from other couture fashion shows that now seem overdesigned, garish and not that groundbreaking in comparison. In that same show, models danced and skateboarded to demonstrate how beautifully the clothes moved in a way that could not be shown in a simple walk. I found out later that the show was to to celebrate the joy of wearing clothes. It was a fun concept, something that seems to be sorely lacking in fashion then and now.

    Based on what I have read about him recently, Mr. Miyake also seemed like a guy who didn’t take himself too seriously. (How can you, when one of your biggest claims to fame is a designer of turtlenecks, albeit for Steve Jobs?) Apparently he hated being called a fashion designer and was a staunch advocate for the dismantling of nuclear weapons (no doubt due to his childhood). Though it’s hard to say who a person really is based on what is written about him, at the very least, Mr. Miyake does seem like a man I would have liked to get to know in real life.

    Thank you for your post, Victoria. You’ve reignited some wonderful memories and shared some new information with me that allows me to appreciate Mr. Miyake all the more. August 12, 2022 at 2:55pm Reply

    • Andrew: Sorry, I didn’t mean to run on so hahahaha August 12, 2022 at 2:57pm Reply

      • Ozoz: That was so beautiful to read. As a bergamot lover – I think that’s how I discovered Bois de Jasmin, and a wearer of L’eau D’Issey, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this perfect length comment. Thank you for taking the time to share August 13, 2022 at 12:37pm Reply

    • Victoria: What a wonderful comment, Andrew. Thank you so much for this. August 15, 2022 at 11:08am Reply

    • Silvermoon: Hello Andrew, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your comment. A perfect addition to this post.

      L’Eau d’Issey was one of my few perfumes in the days before falling down the perfume rabbit hole. Still enjoy it once in a while. August 23, 2022 at 11:43am Reply

  • Muzo: He was a very talented designer.Altough i did not have the chance to wear his colorfull pleated and comfortable dresses but i admired through the fashion magasines pages. I ve discovered his perfume at almost same time the New West of Aramis was launched It still remembers me these days .RIP August 12, 2022 at 3:03pm Reply

    • Victoria: I just love the way his pleated garments look. August 15, 2022 at 11:10am Reply

  • Devon Rubin: This remains my favorite perfume and my birthday is May 5th, an added bonus! August 12, 2022 at 6:21pm Reply

  • Corina Lymburner: L’Eau d’Issey to my uneducated nose smells fresh, floral but in a such a classy way. My first exposure to it was as a sample & I immediately purchased a full bottle. Lovely fragrance. RIP Mr Miyake and thanks for giving us the gift of your creativity, & I hope it will live on forever. August 13, 2022 at 1:23am Reply

    • Victoria: You’ve described it like a pro! August 15, 2022 at 11:11am Reply

  • Debi Sen Gupta: Have used a scent and leau dissey absolue. The first one with its jasmine fragrance was really beautiful. The other one was a bit woody and reminded me of frangipanis. August 13, 2022 at 3:42am Reply

    • Victoria: There are quite a few flankers, I think. August 15, 2022 at 11:11am Reply

      • Debi Sen Gupta: Sorry but I didn’t understand August 16, 2022 at 1:45am Reply

  • Aurora: What a beautiful tribute, Victoria, thank you for the many interesting facts on a very special talent. I remember l’Eau d’Issey well although I never wore it myself, my 90’s perfume is Kenzo l’Eau which I wear every summer.
    A striking memory of smelling something unique is Cacharel Eden. August 13, 2022 at 5:26am Reply

    • Victoria: Eden still smells unique to me. August 15, 2022 at 11:11am Reply

  • Ozoz: My absolute favorite perfume. I haven’t worn anything else for the last 25 years. So beautiful to understand the inspiration and learn the back story. Thank you August 13, 2022 at 12:19pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you for reading, Ozoz! August 15, 2022 at 11:12am Reply

  • Sebastian: I remember L’Eau d’Issey well. I feel exactly as you do, Victoria, it is forever linked with my college days.

    But I no longer wear L’Eau d’Issey. I feel it hasn’t aged well. A prototype, rather than a classic.

    Thank you for drawing attention to Issey Miyake, bringing up those old memories. August 13, 2022 at 1:15pm Reply

    • Victoria: So much could be written about him. He was such a fascinating individual. August 15, 2022 at 11:12am Reply

  • Amalia: Maybe I repeat myself and becoming boring, but I’m so happy you are back Victoria! There were days when I couldn’t get to the website and I got worried. August 13, 2022 at 1:22pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you so much, Amalia. August 15, 2022 at 11:13am Reply

  • Devon Rubin: Surprised and delighted to read about the connection between my favorite perfume and my May 5th birthday! August 13, 2022 at 1:42pm Reply

  • Alityke: L’Eau d’Issey is my fragrant nemesis! Calone is such overdosage is an immediate nauseous headache. I found 90’s scents rather trying after all the classic beauties that went before.

    The most original fragrance at first sniff? Poison! The name! The bottle! Then the gloriously gothic purple grape soda & tuberose that was discernible on Alpha Centauri! The whole came together in a perfect, purple storm.
    I still own enough to be embalmed in it August 13, 2022 at 5:45pm Reply

    • Victoria: Someone who wears Poison won’t get along with L’Eau d’Issey. Both are classics, though. August 15, 2022 at 11:14am Reply

  • Old Herbaceous: I hadn’t known the inspiration behind L’Eau d’Issey, so I was happy to read it here! Like others here, I wish Le Feu d’Issey was still in production. I also like A Scent. I’m intrigued by A Drop, but mostly because of the cool bottle. August 13, 2022 at 6:21pm Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, the bottle is pretty cool. August 15, 2022 at 11:14am Reply

  • Laura Iris: I loved Le Feu d’Issey! I was so happy to able to purchase a bottle from EBay lately. I still think it smells unlike anything else. Immediately took me back to my twenties. I’ve never worn L’Eau d’Issey myself but my good friend had it and I just loved the lingering smell. To me it’s the scent of Paris because she lived there at that time. It was lovely to hear the background story, thank you, Victoria! August 14, 2022 at 7:15am Reply

    • Victoria: Feu d’Issey is a precious find! Enjoy it. August 15, 2022 at 11:14am Reply

  • My1stGradeTeacher: Have never worn anything by Issey, unfortunately. But thanks to your tribute, am very curious and intrigued to try. RIP🕊 The fragrance that struck me as most original have ever smelled is (original) Alliage. It’s my favorite: definitely not for everyone but that’s one of the reasons I love it. Never ceases to delight me. It will keep me happy until I find my 1st grade teacher’s, lol. August 15, 2022 at 12:31pm Reply

  • Sanna: Oh loveliest of memories connected to Issey pour Homme. Back in the mid nineties it was an absolute mind blower. My then boyfriend wore it and I still feel him near as I take a sniff of the beauty. Also so happy to be able to gift my godson a bottle of that when he at the age of 14 wanted to wear a scent. He loves the Miyaki and is proud of having a fume not everyone wears. August 18, 2022 at 8:22am Reply

  • Fleurycat: I was so sad to hear of his passing. He was an inspiration. I’ll never forget my first two experiences with his clothing. I walked into a small boutique in Berkeley, and although the clothing was expensive, I was coaxed to try on a pair of black canvas trousers. They had wide straight legs and a waistband as wide as my midriff, with three nut like buttons in the center as the only fastening. The saleswomen cinched the waist in with a simple rope-like belt. I was dumbstruck! I had never looked so chic! I was an Art student on a limited budget and it was a very unintended purchase that I could barely afford, but I had to do so, and I never regretted the expense. I wore them for years. The simplicity and fit made them timeless. Soon after I saw his pleated clothing in an Issue of ArtForum. The models and clothes were otherworldly, and what an historic issue! It also featured the work of Laurie Anderson, and contained an actual vinyl single. Sadly someone recognized it as a future collector’s item and it was stolen from me. I loved his pleated clothing, and the many designers who followed, like Babette, who made special mechanical steamers to create her own pleated line. They are all amazing for travel: lightweight, wrinkle-proof (😉), and effortlessly chic. When I heard of Issey Miyake’s passing, though still above my budget, I found and purchased a simple PleatsPlease top, in memoriam. As an artist I have always found the craftsmanship of so many Japanese tools and goods to be exquisite and inspiring, beautiful objects exquisitely executed. Miyake’s clothing was wearable art. August 25, 2022 at 6:17pm Reply

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