Last time it was the haircuts; this time it was the colours. When I attended the launch of L'Eau D'Issey Pour Homme Sport at the brand's London boutique in 2012, I remember being overwhelmed by the variety of geometric coiffures on display. This time around - at an event to mark the UK release of the new feminine scent, Pleats Please - the emphasis is on various hues of electric purples, yellows and reds. Models walk around the minimalist space, showing off outfits made from the designer's trademark pleated fabric. Shawls are wrapped around shoulders and tied behind backs with large knots. Loosely-structured, gossamer-thin blouses hang off svelte bodies. Trousers widen and narrow at different heights, ranging from jodhpur-style creations, to billowing harem pants. The effect is mesmeric, not least because it contrasts with the greyness outside like a vision of the spring weather which everyone is so patiently awaiting.
The point of it all is, of course, to tie in with the fragrance. More than twenty years after the birth of Jacques Cavallier's classic L'Eau D'Issey, the brand has decided to release a scent which conveys "the joy of femininity," according to Nathalie Helloin Kamel of Beaute Prestige International, Miyake's sole perfume licensee since he entered the world of fine fragrance.
Unlike all the other creations released by the house until now, Pleats Please takes its inspiration directly from Miyake's fashion work. "What could we create to add something to the philosophy, the DNA of Miyake?" says Helloin Kamel. "This time, for the first time, Issey Miyake Parfums has behaved as a real fashion designer fragrance brand. For the first time we have taken our inspiration from the world of fashion. We wanted to add colour and joy to the very pure story of Issey Miyake. It was really something new for us."
Perfumer Aurelien Guichard (creator of the entire, current Robert Piguet range, and son of Jean, current Director of the influential Givaudan School) explains that his introduction to the project came in the form of pictorial cues. "I remember a visual with a woman smiling and looking towards the sky," he says. "I remember the fabric and the colours, but I didn't know this was specifically for Pleats Please when we first started."
Although he wasn't aware of the source of these prompts, he explains that his association with Miyake reaches quite some way into the past. "When I was five, my father took me to an Issey Miyake fashion show. At the end, Mr Miyake asked me what I wanted to do when I grow up, if I wanted to be a couturier or a designer. I said I wanted to be a footballer!
"Later on in my life, the first woman I loved wore L'Eau D'Issey. As the son of a perfumer, L'Eau D'Issey really meant something. So of course when I was asked to create for Issey Miyake, it was an honour."
Guichard says he broke down the proposal with which he was presented into separate components and tried to find olfactory representations for each of them. "In the brief, there was the presence of joy, happiness and colours. It had to be totally different from L'Eau D'Issey. It had to be expansive. In terms of fragrance, we try to find ingredients which translate those emotions. So we tried to express the impression of the bright, colourful Pleats Please fabrics with a nashi fruit, a fruit that is between a pear and an apple. It happened to be an Asian fruit, but we didn't do that on purpose. It just smelt right in the formula.
"The feminine presence is about flowers and petals. We played with peony. And in the visuals there's a lot of movement, so we had to think of how we could make the petals vibrate. We decided to play with some woods. They bring structure and vibrancy. We played with patchouli and cedar wood. And finally we wanted to bring a sense of pleasure, so we used vanilla and a touch of musk. I worked for about a year, more than 1000 trials. It didn't move so far away from what it is, but we changed qualities, we fine-tuned quantities. The colours had to be bright."
In this climate of financial unpredictability, perhaps it isn't surprising that Issey Miyake Parfums are trying to soften their somewhat austere fragrance line with a helping of optimism. Whether Guichard and Co have actually succeeded in pouring hundreds of smiles into their multi-faceted Pleats Please bottles is a matter that's up for debate. But it's certainly interesting to note that more than two decades after it trod its own path and ended up almost single-handedly defining the spare aesthetic of early 90s perfumery, the brand is aiming to make itself accessible and undemanding. Will the great buying public take the bait... or will they keep spending their pennies on L'Eau D'Issey? The battle will soon be fought at a perfumery somewhere near you...