In the mid-1970s Issey Miyake conflated regional apparel traditions with Western high-fashion aesthetics. With his completely original, virtually unshaped pattern pieces, Miyake inaugurated his APOC, or “A Piece of Cloth,” concept for apparel design. By the 1990s many of his garments took on increasingly assertive geometries on the body while still asserting the planarity of their pattern pieces. Of his signature pleated polyester works, the “Staircase” dress is particularly representative of Miyake’s fascination with the sculptural possibilities of cloth. But even with its assertive ziggurat-like form, the designer underscores the essential flatness of each of the four panels that form the body of the garment by exploiting the pleated structure of the cloth to flute and furl like paper.
Women’s Wear Daily noted in its positive review of the collection, “The fact that no one’s going to be wearing pleated pyramids with precision-cut staircases up each side goes without saying.” Clearly, the fashion daily did not consider the likes of Muriel Kallis Newman, the noted collector of Abstract Expressionist art, who wore this piece with great panache to one of The Costume Institute’s opening events. She paired the gown with earrings that brushed her shoulders, comprised, she explained, of one set from a street vendor made of nuts and bolts that she attached to another set done by Cartier in the 1920s. Mrs. Newman’s Tatlin-like accessorization served to underscore Miyake’s affinities for early modernist design and art movements, among them Cubism, the Bauhaus, and perhaps most aptly with regard to this dress, Russian Constructivism.