IRIS VAN HERPEN
As an aspiring fashion designer at the art academy, Van Herpen learned to work with soft fabric. She quickly felt limited by fabric, as she wanted to build, construct, and sculpt with the materials of which she created her designs. This forced her, already early on, to experiment with other materials, and later on to develop materials that approached her concept the closest.
Taken this into consideration, it is not surprising that ‘sculptural’ is a term much used to describe her work, and, indeed, the designs can function very well on their own as sculptures, as several exhibitions on her work have proven. Yet, the designs remain clothes they are not wearable sculptures, because there is another essential aspect to be taken into consideration: Van Herpen’s love for the body in movement. The design is only realized in equal interaction with the body. Van Herpen’s designs follow, complete, and change the body and the emotions that accompany it, when simultaneously the body adapts and adopts the new forms. Movement is key. It is of decisive importance for the ultimate design how a moving body reacts on a piece of clothing and, vice versa, how a piece of clothing behaves when worn.
Van Herpen’s decision to explore the Rapid prototyping technology of 3D printing allowed her to be the first to introduce this technology in fashion, and to create astonishing designs with it. Van Herpen became fascinated with the endless design potential of 3D printing. In recent collections she further developed her prints by adding detailed handwork.
The 3D prints only added to that other much-heard term to describe Van Herpen’s style: futuristic. Besides the use of new technologies, the term mostly refers to the appearance of her looks. What is very important to realize, though, is that her designs combine new technologies and diligent handwork. In fact, this is characteristic for all Van Herpen’s collections. Exactly this combination of handwork and innovative technologies brings Van Herpen to her edgy designs. She equally values techniques from the past and techniques and technologies of the future, because they have their own power and beauty that, when rightly combined, can be enhanced instead of being substituted by one another.
“For me fashion is an expression of art that is very close related to me and to my body.
I see it as my expression of identity combined with desire, moods and cultural setting.
In all my work I try to make clear that fashion is an artistic expression, showing and wearing art, and not just a functional and devoid of content or commercial tool. With my work I intend to show that fashion can certainly have an added value to the world, that it can be timeless and that its consumption can be less important then its beginning. Wearing clothing creates an exciting and imperative form of self-expression. ‘Form follows function’ is not a slogan with which I concur. On the contrary, I find that forms complement and change the body and thus the emotion. Movement, so essential to and in the body, is just as important in my work. By bringing form, structure and materials together in a new manner, I try to suggest and realize optimal tension and movement.”
Iris her designs require every time an unique treatment of material or even the creation of complete new materials. For this reason, Van Herpen prefers interdisciplinary research
and often collaborates with other artists or scientists.
Hacking Infinity F/W 2015/2016
With Hacking Infinity Iris van Herpen explores the idea of terraforming: modifying the biosphere of another planet to resemble that of Earth. The collection explores the possibility of new geographies and our place within them. The desire to reconfigure space finds expression in light performative materials, biomimetic structures and saturated spectral colors that interact with the movement of the body. The central geometry is the circle, in both silhouette and cut. The spherical shape of planetary bodies and the symbol of a boundless ‘hackable’ infinity unfolds before us in a constant flow of mandala-like forms. Van Herpen developed an extremely light, translucent stainless steel weave, hand burnished to imprint a sheen of nebula-like colors, whose infinite variations make each garment unique. Three-dimensionality is imperative to Van Herpen, and she continues her research with the creation of a 3D-handwoven textile with designer Aleksandra Gaca. One weave like a mineral geology encases the body while the other cushions it with a light linear grid, threaded and fringed with a raw edge. Van Herpen pursues her collaboration with the Canadian professor of architecture Philip Beesley on the creation of digitally fabricated dresses made from a black garden of fractal like geometries. The shoes for this collection were made in collaboration with the Japanese shoe designer Noritaka Tatehana. They are crafted from 3D-printed translucent crystal clusters and laser-cut leather.
MAGNETIC MOTION – S/S 2015, Womenswear
In this ready-to-wear collection Iris van Herpen explores the interplay of magnetic forces. Her visit to the Large Hadron Collider in CERN provided inspiration to explore the representation of dynamic forces of attraction and repulsion. “I find beauty in the continual shaping of chaos which clearly embodies the primordial power of nature’s performance,” says Van Herpen describing the essence of the collection. She brought together Philip Beesley’s pioneering work in responsive ‘living’ sculptures and artist and craftsman Jolan van der Wiel, whose work with magnetic tension has resulted in dynamic sculptures and installations that bring to mind the power of volcanic eruptions. Both artists strive to erase the boundaries between nature and technology in their work, which coincides with the direction of van Herpen’s creative aim. Van Herpen worked with techniques like injection molding and laser cutting on maze like structures, 3D-printing and intricate architectural handwork on dresses, jackets, trousers, skirts and blouses giving them dynamic shapes and surfaces that echo the body’s movement. The three-dimensional nature and the layering of the garments give them volume. The controlled structure of the clothes is countered by the chaotic structure of the accessories, where, due to the nature of magnetic growth, no two items are alike. The shoes, belts, necklaces and clutches were “grown” using magnetic fields.
BIOPIRACY – 2104 Womenswear
A mix of ready-to-wear and couture pieces is presented with artist Lawrence Malstaf -who specializes in the interaction between biology and physicality. Models float in the air, embryonic, seemingly weightless and in a meditative suspended animation. They came into being through the intriguing question, preceding this collection, on the purchase of patents of our genes in the recent past: Are we still the sole proprietors of our bodies? From this question arises a sense of arrested freedom in one’s most intimate, solitary state. Metamorphosis is suggested through intricate enmeshing of materials. Imprisoned fire opal beads gleam through lacerated weaves; artificial fibers compose voluminous, architectural structures, like the organic ripple of light on water. A 3D-printing collaboration with Julia Koerner fuses the artisanal with the technical to create a kinetic dress which dances as it amplifies bodily movement. Molded boots in collaboration with United Nude accelerate and reconfigure the silhouette.
EMBOSSED SOUNDS – 2014 Womenswear
Fascinated by the relationship and potential porosity between the senses, Iris Van Herpen has developed clothes that generate sounds by touch. ‘Embossed Sounds’ is the name of her orchestra of human touch, which explores garments as electronic instruments that one can touch and play. By touching the clothes, music is sculpted live by the models for their audience in an intimate performance.
Touch sensitive and sensual audio waves threading and weaving over the body create an intricate sonic web. The collection plays on a visual duality and ambiguity, combining the ethereal feminine softness of plissé with the flick knife and swagger of the underground rebel biker.
WILDERNESS EMBODIED – July 2013, Paris Haute Couture Week
Trough her collaboration with artist Jolan van der Wiel, who has spent several years pondering the possibilities of magnetism, Van Herpen created dresses whose very forms are generated by the phenomenon of attraction and repulsion. She draws equally upon the life force that pulses through the sculptures of David Altmejd. His wild organic forms derived from the regenerative processes of nature have inspired this collection. With architect Isaie Bloch and Materialise she continues to develop 3D-printed dresses, which she was the first to present in both static and flexible forms. Her partnership with United Nude’s Rem D. Koolhaas and Stratasys has led to shoes like tangled webs of tree-roots around the foot.
VOLTAGE – 2013, Paris Haute Couture Week
For her fourth collection as a guest member of the Chambre syndicale de la Haute Couture, Iris van Herpen explores the electricity of the body. Experimenting with its use in the field of creation, this collection seeks to portray its tangible movement and power. This ability of light and electricity to change states and bodies is reproduced using the most innovative technologies. Described as an alchemist approach to fashion, Van Herpen’s designs perpetually embrace new collaborations with artists, architects and researchers.
As part of the show she collaborated with new Zealand artist Carlos Van Camp, echoing his notion of controlling high voltage electricity and its interaction with the human body. Van Camp experiments with three million volts running through bodies. Van Herpen’s ongoing collaboration with architect Philip Beesley’s focuses in this collection specifically on how the reaction of chemistry and electricity causes structures to respond to their environment and react as living beings.
HYBRID HOLISM – July 2012, Paris Haute Couture Week
The project Hylozoic Ground by the Canadian architect and artist Philip Beesley provided the inspiration for this collection. Hylozoic refers to Hylozoism, the ancient belief that all matter is in some sense alive. Beesley created a responsive architectural system that uses hylozoism in a quite specific way, that is, “we are working with subtle materials, electricity and chemistry, weaving together interactions that at first create an architecture that simulates life but increasingly these interactions are starting to act like life, like some of the ingredients of life”. His environment breathes, shifts and moves in relationship to people walking through it, touching it, and sensing it. Microprocessors invest that environment with a primitive or insect-like intelligence like a coral reef or a great swarm. Van Herpen 3D-print for this collection is named the ‘pythagoras tree’ dress inspired by a Dutch book on drawings produced by a Belgian artist based on the Pythagoras tree (fractal). Considering the level of detail (in repetition) of the fractals, the different level(s) of perception, their use in studying images, structures and sounds, the possibility of describing processes in time, etcetera, it fits Van Herpen’s fascination like a glove, especially with regard to this collection.
Iris van Herpen is intrigued by these kinds of possibilities for a future of fashion that might take on quite unimaginable shapes. Fashion that might be partly alive and growing, and, therefore, existing partly independent from us, which in turn allows for a new treatment by humans: instead of discarding the fashion after use, we cherish, value, and maintain it in its abilities to change constantly. Van Herpen’s translated this future vision in a collection that is highly complex and incredibly diverse in terms of shape, structure, and material.
MICRO – January 2012, Paris Haute Couture Week
Inspired by the pictures that science photographer Steve Gschmeissner took using Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) technology, Micro zooms in on the world of microorganisms that is completely hidden from our sight. The pictures show specimens that are dead, dried, and chemically fixated to preserve and stabilize their structures. Van Herpen remains interested in the living organism. Her designs allude to armature, tentacles, cell structures, and plasma. Some seem moist others glow and move while being worn, coming to live on the body. For one design, the ‘cathedral dress’ Van Herpen introduced a technique referred to as mammoth stereolithography which refers to a 3D printing method. This 3D printed process is built slice by slice from bottom to top, in a vessel of polymer that hardens when struck by a laser beam.
CAPRIOLE – July 2011, Paris Haute Couture Week
Iris van Herpen made her debut in Paris as member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture with this collection. Besides being a compilation of highlights from previous collections, this new collection also presented five striking outfits that evoke the feeling just before and during a free-fall parachute jump. A ‘leap in the air’ (the meaning of the French word Capriole) that Van Herpen once in a while takes to reset her body and mind. The five outfits are a reflection of the extreme feelings experienced during that jump. For instance, the dress consisting of serpentine forms made of black acrylic sheets, nicknamed the ‘snake dress’, evokes the mental state at the moment before the jump when, as Van Herpen explains, “all my energy is in my head and I feel as though my mind is snaking through thousands of bends”.
ESCAPISM – January 2011, Paris Haute Couture Week
Escaping from everyday reality through addictive digital entertainment incites in Iris van Herpen not only feelings of emptiness but also associations with the grotesque, the extreme and the fantastic. This collection aims to capture both the exaltation of these addictions, like the disproportionate attention for celebrities (the ‘new heroes’) and its dark flipside, the never fulfilled hunger that is inherent to it. Another important source of inspiration were the exuberant baroque sculptures of the American artist Kris Kuksi. Dramatic bulging spherical shapes alternate with lace- and skeleton-like 3D-prints, and silver-grey fabrics that seem to reflect their own surface.
CRYSTALLIZATION – July 2010, Amsterdam Fashion Week
At the instigation of ARCAM (Architecture Centre Amsterdam) a collaboration was organized between Iris van Herpen and Benthem Crouwel Architekten. Benthem Crouwel’s design for a new extension to Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum had earned the nickname ‘bath tub’. This inspired Van Herpen to design a dress that would fall around the wearer like a splash of water, like being immersed in a warm bath, and to express in the collection the different states, structures and patterns of water.
Noteworthy is that in this collection Van Herpen presents her first 3D-print that she created in collaboration with the London-based architect Daniel Widrig and that was printed by .MGX by Materialise.
SYNESTHESIA – February 2010, London Fashion Week
Synaesthesia is a neurological condition that results in a combination of sensory perceptions. To underscore the hypersensitivity of the body, and to visualize this entanglement of sensory perceptions Van Herpen secured shiny metal foil on specially treated leather that generated a confusing visual effect without a steady fixation point.
RADIATION INVASION – September 2009, London Fashion Week
Radiation Invasion translates Iris van Herpen’s question of what we could do with our daily (over)dose of electromagnetic waves and digital information streams if we could see them. In these designs the wearer seems to be surrounded by a whimsical complex of wavy rays, flickering patterns, vibrating particles, and reflecting pleats.
MUMMIFICATION – January 2009, Amsterdam Fashion Week
Van Herpen became captivated with the macabre beauty of ancient Egyptian mummification and the intense devotion that surrounds the process. With techniques to swaddle, wrap and cover the body along with the typical geometric and graphic patterns of Egyptian mummies, she elaborates on the practice of the ancient Egyptians to create a new reality for their dead.
REFINERY SMOKE – July 2008, Amsterdam Fashion Week
The ambiguous character of refinery smoke, both beautiful and poisonous, inspired this collection. Van Herpen translated the elusiveness of industrial smoke into specially woven metal gauze. She turned metal threads into an extremely soft and pliable material. The metal kept its characteristic of oxidation and Van Herpen considers this inherent chemical process as (visually) reflecting the dual aspect of industrial smoke.
CHEMICAL CROWS – January 2008, Amsterdam Fashion Week
A group of crows living around Van Herpen’s studio triggered her association with black magic and alchemy. Crows are known for their intelligence, predilection for glittering objects, and are traditionally associated with secrecy and symbolism. Van Herpen shares with alchemists a passion for controlling and transmuting materials. As alchemists tried to turn base metals into gold, so Van Herpen has transformed in several designs gold-coloured ribs of 700 children’s umbrellas into shapes reminiscent of the movement of wings and feathers.
FRAGILE FUTURITY – July 2007, Amsterdam Fashion Week
Starting point for this collections was the fusion of animal instinct and human rationality. The resulting ‘creatures/creations’ of this combination reflected Van Herpen’s view on the future: fragile, vulnerable and evolved. She experimented with forms and shapes of wings, horns, and snake prints.