For Dutch fashion designer Iris van Herpen, the invisible forces shaping our world are often more striking than what’s visible. Perhaps that’s why the creatures ambling down her runway appear to be interpolated in a cosmos between reality and unreality. Through her experimentation and collaborations in the past decade, fashion has become a vessel to transcend boundaries and make the unseen seen.
From lucid dreaming and the power of chaos to synaesthesia and the electricity in our bodies, Van Herpen has taken bits and pieces from the realms of art, science, technology, dance and philosophy, and brought them into her ethereal designs. This kind of unlikely cross-pollination led to her becoming the first ever designer to send a 3D-printed garment down the catwalk, in 2010.
Since then, technology has played a crucial role in the development of mind-bending methods and materials that cater to her otherworldly aesthetic vision: a dress hand-stitched from 5,000 3D printed parts; chunky cow leather shoes boasting intricate laser-cut patterns; and models suspended between vacuum-packed plastic sheets. By going against the grain, she’s notably diminished the gap between traditional craftsmanship and emerging technologies in the fashion world.
To mark the tenth anniversary of her eponymous label, Van Herpen's Fall 2017 Couture collection delved into the duality of light and darkness through the exploration of the nature of air. This translated as sleek dresses with undulating vertical lines hugging model silhouettes. A whimsical cloud of metal bent into floral patterns hovering over a model’s body, was created alongside Canadian architect Philip Beesley, one of Van Herpen’s frequent collaborators. It’s a collection that further amplifies her enigmatic legacy in fashion.
Much of the foray into unknown territory has to do with Van Herpen’s interdisciplinary partnerships with people who are as visionary, innovative and driven as herself: Björk, Nick Knight, Tilda Swinton and Sasha Waltz, to name a few. Over the years, her forward-thinking practice has involved architects, artists, scientists, biologists, choreographers, musicians and actors. By working closely with individuals both inside and outside the industry, Van Herpen seems to expand on and execute the ideas that are most essential to her. “After so many years, the process has become even more important to me than the final result,” said Van Herpen in an interview with AnOther earlier this year. Here, in celebration of an extraordinary ten years, five of such creative collaborators pay tribute to Van Herpen’s singular magic in a variety of ways – from a dedicated dictionary definition by Casey Legler to two fond facts from Tilda Swinton – alongside exclusive imagery by Warren du Preez and Nick Thornton Jones.
“Two facts about Iris.
Fact one: Iris deals in magic, somehow: the powerful practical magic of science and of spirit. Her clothes makes creatures of all who wear them, supernatural, phosphorescent, elevated, crucially reconnected to the wondrous stuff of matter and relieved of the mundane burdens of parochial terrestrial human living.
Fact two: once she and Salvador brought to our house a toast rack – which we use every day – made with tiny china sheep balanced on the top of every one of its green hill leaves.
I cannot think of one of these realities without the other creeping in round the side.”
“Iris van Herpen has an anti-gravity quality to her work. It takes place in the future. There is a scientific dimension to using the body. The work is magnetic, optimistic and endlessly original.”
“Iris van Herpen: the pencil line dress, Nom Propre.
Etymology: sine waves, sound waves, mathematics, the oscillations of geographical maps (see also: physics).
Current usage: garment (sic).
- fashion; art. (sic). See also: insufficient definition.
For a more complete iteration of her work: see: collaboration with Benjamin Millipied and Nico Muhly and the ballet dancers from NYC Ballet.
See: a symbiotic relationship between movement and sound as interpolated through garments.
See also: The object body mitigated through the object lines that are the dress.
Incorrect usage: interpretation of the body of work without Salvador Breed.
See also: mitigation; symbiosis.
(See also: Phillip Beesely; Nannine Linning; biological organisms under microscopes; vellum maps; the place where unicorns come from.)
- see poetry.
- Iris van Herpen /ˈjuːnɪkɔːn/
- Iris van Herpen /ˈpəʊɪt/
- Iris van Herpen /kəˈlabəreɪtə/
For my friend, Iris. Congratulations on ten years.”
“Iris is uniquely gifted. Having known her for a decade or more, I have seen her evolution and observed her steadfast core idea of exploring the human body. She embellishes it using filigree, laser-cut metals and plastics in her never-ending quest to render the person that inhabits her art into something more than human. With her courage, imagination and knowledge of technology, she creates the future as if by magic.
We worked together when she created the ‘Splash’ dress, which she fashioned in real-time, online, for SHOWStudio. I was placed on a pedestal and splashed with black and clear water for the greater part of a day until she and Nick [Knight] had found the perfect splash to freeze frame – and from which she could work. At the end of the week Nick shot me in the dress; I had such a great time.
I've worn many of Iris's pieces on shoots, like the music video for Evening in Space by David La Chapelle, who has since become a huge fan of hers. On a personal level we have spent many happy times together in Amsterdam, Paris and London. She is one of the most fascinating artists that I have ever met. To know Iris is one of the joys of my life.”
“Iris is someone special, not just in her designs but as a person. She is in her own space of creativity which many of us rarely get to. She is also humble and totally approachable, so to work with her is a pleasure. When me made our film together, the most important thing for Iris was that the dresses looked and felt organic, so even though everything was 3D animated, we spent a long time making sure that the dresses looked like an organic organisms. This I think was the most beautiful part of film. the fact that nature was the driving force behind the vision. I think many people look at Iris and see a designer of super futuristic clothes, but everything she does is inspired by natural forms that have been with us for millions of years.”
Model Soo Joo Park; Creative consultant and sittings editor Jerry Stafford; Hair Martin Cullen at Streeters; Make up Terry Barber at David Artists; Producer Tom Brannigan; Assistants Eddy Lane, Margaux Jouanneau.
Special thanks to Emma Van de Merwe at IVH, Kim Vos, Paul Van As, Michelle den Hollander, and Studio Zero.