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Walking up the steps of the Musée de L’Homme, or Museum of Man, I am charmed by an oversize advertisement that’s been unfurled in front of the adjacent Musée national de la Marine: LES MARINS FONT LA MODE, or “the sailors make fashion.” Welcome to Paris, where the idea of sailor chic is deemed worthy of its own exhibition.
Indeed, in this city where fashion is taken most seriously, the Musée de L’Homme—home of items such as the skull of the physicist René Descartes—is actually closed for renovations until 2012. But on this morning in early June it’s been opened privately at the behest of a highly influential designer who hails from the other side of the planet: Issey Miyake, born in Hiroshima and based in a Tokyo studio since 1970, but very much a son of Paris, having studied here and later choosing the fashion capital as the site of his collection presentations since the mid-’70s.
The 70-year-old Miyake has news, and so the shuttered galleries of a Paris museum in the 16th arrondissement have been made available to showcase his singular vision, which often has transcended fashion to become a conversation about art, artistry and craft. From essence to completion is a journey Miyake undeniably enjoys, a concept wholly evident in that which climaxes this private showing: A Scent, the designer’s first major new fragrance launch for women since the iconic—and still wildly popular—L’Eau d’Issey 17 years ago. The final room in Miyake’s temporary exhibit unveils dozens of the clean, highly minimalist bottles in perfectly precise rows, all of which appear to be emerging from one gargantuan piece of glass; at the other end of the long table, the bottles meet the unfolded paper packaging before seemingly rising—or ascending, as the play on the scent’s title is intended—into the air, a finished work Miyake is ready to present to the world (it arrived at Saks Fifth Avenue in August and expands this month to include Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom next month).