Here’s The Real Story Of Issey Miyake And Steve Jobs’ Iconic Turtleneck
Clothing brand St. Croix wasted no time following the death of Steve Jobs on October 5, 2011. The high-end knitwear maker implied credit for the Apple CEO’s iconic black mock turtleneck while announcing sales of the $175 shirt allegedly favored by Jobs increased 100%.
Jobs would purchase two dozen of the turtlenecks each year, St. Croix owner Bernhard Brenner claimed, saying the Apple CEO even called the company personally to express his appreciation of the shirt.
It was a fable quickly debunked by a pre-published snippet in Walter Isaacson’s much-anticipated Jobs biography which revealed a then-obscure tale of a friendship between Jobs and the real artist behind the turtleneck, Japanese designer Issey Miyake, who died on Friday, August 5, at age 84
St. Croix backpedaled while Miyake, for his part, quietly retired the turtleneck from the market in 2011 in honor of his late friend.
Yet it’s the turtleneck, off the market for more than 10 years, that leads the headlines announcing Miyake’s passing that put him and Jobs on the same path on which they met in 1981.
It was Miyake’s unique design project with the Sony Corporation in 1981 that sealed his fashion legacy for the iconic Jobs. For Sony’s 35th anniversiary, Sony Chairman Akio Morita commissioned Miyake to design a jacket for Sony’s employees. Miyake created a futuristic jacket of rip-stop nylon with sleeves that could unzip to make it a vest.
Enter Steve Jobs.
Jobs visited Sony in the 1980s, and in a meeting with Morita, he asked the Chairman why employees at Sony wore uniforms, according to an excerpt from Walter Isaacson’s Jobs biography published by Gawker on October 11, 2011. Morita told Jobs that no one had any clothes after World War II, so companies like Sony gave workers clothes to wear at work. Over the years, Sony’s uniforms developed their signature styles and became a way of bonding workers to the company.
According to Isaacson’s authorized biography, Jobs wanted that kind of bonding for Apple. Jobs called Miyake and asked him to design a vest for Apple.
As reported by Gawker and other sources, that vest didn’t go over well. Employees hated the idea of everyone wearing the same clothes in a corporate uniform. So Jobs, being Jobs, transformed the concept of a corporate uniform into a uniform for himself.
“So I asked Issey to make me some of his black turtlenecks that I liked, and he made me like a hundred of them.” Jobs told his biographer, showing a surprised Isaacson the fashion haul stacked in his closet. That solo black turtleneck became Job’s personal uniform and created his defining signature style thanks to the vision of the iconic fashion designer, Issey Miyake.
It was a fitting partnership for Jobs and Miyake, who built his empire on technology-driven clothing designs, exhibitions and fragrances. Yet Miyake, who survived the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima in August 1945, led a more nuanced life than one black turtleneck.
Before Miyake studied dressmaking and tailoring in Paris at the École de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne in 1965, Miyake studied graphic design at Tama Art University in Tokyo. From those two schools, Miyake creatively combined dressmaking with graphic design to create his imitable origami-like designs that anchored his fashion designs.
Miyake became a sort of fabric entrepreneur. Inspired by pleated silk Delphos gowns from the 1900s, Miyake created a fabric that would expand vertically with hundreds of small folds. His pleating technique incorporated a unique technological innovation – where pleats are applied after the fabric is cut and sewn – made permanently pleated garments one of his lasting design legacies.
In 2017, Issey Miyake Inc. released what might be described as an homage to the original turtleneck retired in 2011, though certainly not a reissue. Designed by Miyake protégé Yusuke Takahashi, the $270 Semi-Dull T was described by Bloomberg as a “trimmer silhouette and higher shoulders than the original.” Takahashi spent ten years with Miyake before departing his role as artistic director of Issey Miyake Men in 2020 to launch CFCL — Clothing For Contemporary Life.
Takahashi’s new brand is built around computer-developed knitwear made from certified, sustainable polyester yarns. The brand’s use of state-of-the-art technology is arguably a part of Miyake’s ongoing fashion legacy.