Widely recognized as one of the industry’s most talented and forward-thinking creators, Dutch fashion designer Iris van Herpen continuously pushes the boundaries of design. Since launching her eponymous label in 2007, van Herpen has been preoccupied with inventing new forms and methods of sartorial expression by combining the most traditional, and the most radical, materials and methods into her unique aesthetic vision.
Hailed as a pioneer in utilizing 3D printing as a garment construction technique, van Herpen is an innovator who is comfortable with using technology as one of the guiding principles in her work because of its sculptural nature and unfamiliar form. The designer’s intent is to blend the past and the future into a distinct version of the present by fusing technology and traditional couture craftsmanship.
Her singular vision combined with the complexity of her creations has made van Herpen a member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture and a fixture on the Paris Haute Couture calendar, where she has shown since 2011.
Today, van Herpen continues to work within her Amsterdam studio, where new ideas are born, and where Haute Couture orders are meticulously crafted for her global clientele, each creation passing through the designer’s own hands.
“[Her] work reveals the secret structures of our existence giving us a multidimensional experience of what it is to be alive. It is an investigation into the past, present and future in all its primal and mythological forms.”
After graduating from Arnhem’s ArtEZ Institute of the Arts in 2006 and completing a stint working for Alexander McQueen in London and the Dutch artist Claudy Jongstra—van Herpen has singly (and single-mindedly) become fashion’s leading exponent of what technology can do and what it will mean for us. She sidesteps categorization as a designer, preferring to let whoever sees or, indeed, wears her work to choose how to describe it: Fashion? Art? Or simply, quite possibly, the future?
Making her first pieces using 3D Printing techniques in 2009, van Herpen has been at the forefront of the industry ever since. She has a vast relationship with the TU Delft and collaborates regularly with their engineers, and while her first 3D-works took approximately 6 days x 24 hours of printing, now she is able to quickly print flexible materials.
“Van Herpen is considered to be one of the most innovative and consequential fashion designers currently at work, her clothing often looks more like modern sculpture. She loves anatomy-defying shapes, and has made evening dresses embellished with triangular acrylic spikes that evoke ice crystals, and tops crafted from flame-burnished iron mesh.”
Achieving the perfect mix of technology and creativity, van Herpen collaborated with the TU Delft to develop two different laser-cutting techniques for her Ludi Natura collection:
‘Data Dust,’ in which parametric patterns are computationally distorted, foam-lifted, laser-cut and then heat-bonded onto an invisible silk tulle, creates radiant glitches.
‘Entropy,’ in which nude leather and liquid fabric are bonded to mylar, individually laser-cut into perforated diminishing patterns, and interwoven to form interlocking gradients from leather to drape voluminously.
In celebration of the 10th anniversary of Swarovski’s Kristallwelten flagship store in Vienna, van Herpen was invited to take over the space with five experimental art installations. For one of the works, model and artist Lekeliene Stange was 3D-scanned and modeled to create a larger-than-life woman’s head.
Kristallwelten is one of three Swarovski stores in Austria in operation with the aim of fusing art and lifestyle to ‘transform Swarovski crystal into a living experience.’ Van Herpen’s work for the company gets straight to this point: Biomorphism – the body of installations created for the store – is the designer’s ode to the performance of femininity.
“For me fashion is an expression of art that is very closely related both to me and to my body. I see it as an expression of identity combined with desire, moods and a cultural setting.”
In collaboration with Neutelings Riedijk Architects, van Herpen wrapped the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden, The Netherlands in over 1000 meters of delicate concrete friezes that merge fossil forms with the fabric of the designer’s collections.
Each of the orange stone blocks, which contain the museum’s nine galleries, is wrapped in a frieze designed by van Herpen that combines couture fashion with rock formations and fossils, while each of the 263 panels that wrap the blocks were molded from concrete and small-grained white marble aggregate to create a delicate feel that is reminiscent of fabric.
To create the form, van Herpen looked at numerous stone formations and fossils within the museum’s collections, as well as traveling to see formations in nature.
“Iris Van Herpen has spent the last decade establishing herself as not just a designer but as someone who is constantly pushing the boundaries of what clothing can be. Her high-tech creations are often jaw-dropping, as if fantastical illustrations have somehow burst unexpectedly to life.”
A longtime collaborator of Björk’s, van Herpen partnered with the performance artist on her most elaborated staged concert to date: ‘Cornucopia’ at New York’s new cultural hub, the Shed at Hudson Yards.
Van Herpen’s collections are often architectural in ambition and appear as if they descended from the future or a parallel universe. For this collaboration, the designer created the ‘Sphaera’ dress, inspired by an orchid-avatar that hovers like an aura around Björk’s body, continuing to change shape as she moved across the stage. In collaboration with the light artist Nick Verstand, the ‘Sphaera’ dress turned into a bioluminescent creature during the performance
Her first couture commission for a man, legendary theatre producer Jordan Roth, van Herpen created a custom look styled by Vogue’s Michael Philouze for the Met Gala.
The multi-layered look initially presented as an optical illusion of a closed theatre curtain. When Jordan raised his arms, thousands of laser-cut ‘glitch-bubbles’ stretched open to reveal a new layer in between; an enormous silk fabric printed with a full theater in 360° combining photos of Paris’s Palais Garnier, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and the Royal Opera in Stockholm taken by photographer David Leventi. Every movement Jordan made became an amplified wave of theatre that tricked the eyes.
“I gravitate to the performative ideas of camp, both the artifice and exaggeration, but also the metaphor of life as theater. That’s where I live. I’ve always been completely mesmerized by [van Herpen’s] pieces. Each one feels like this extraordinarily thoughtful and exquisitely executed work of art, with so many literal and figurative layers. And that’s the kind of piece I wanted to create.”
A former ballet dancer herself, van Herpen has created costumes for the Paris Opera and the New York City Ballet, collaborating with the choreographer Benjamin Millepied and the Sasha Waltz dance company in Berlin.
In collaboration with Opera Vlaanderen, she served as Costume Designer for its breathtaking production of the Claude Debussy opera ‘Pelléas et Mélisande.’ Debuting in Antwerp, Debussy’s famously dark and disturbing masterwork also featured set design by Marina Abramović and an abstract video backdrop by Marco Brambilla.
Dom Pérignon collaborated with van Herpen on an avant-garde limited-edition champagne box and 3D-printed sculpture as part of its ‘Power of Creation’ project.
Van Herpen’s gift packs drew inspiration from concepts of metamorphosis and the length of time involved in making the champagne. Each box was signed by the designer and bore a sprawling, crystal-like green graphic set on a black backdrop.
The partnership also saw van Herpen design the Cocoonase – a 3D-printed sculpture with space for a champagne bottle. Both concepts were commissioned to celebrate the first release of Dom Pérignon Vintage 2004 drawing to a close and to mark the introduction of the second, called the P2-2004.
To accompany van Herpen’s work, photographer Daniel Sannwald directed a minute-long video that saw a ghost-like Anja Rubik emerge from an evolving green mist, harking back to the notion of metamorphosis. Previous Power of Creation collaborators have included Jeff Koons, Karl Lagerfeld, Marc Newson and David Lynch.
"When I create fashion, each time I integrate a unique treatment of materials, or sometimes even create completely new materials. The goal in collaborating with Dom Pérignon was to adopt the same spirit of daring and innovation that guided Dom Pierre Pérignon to make ‘the best wine in the world’ by relying on his intellect, imagination, intuition and exacting standards. My fashion creations often incorporate a structured element, and I wanted to highlight the precise nature of Dom Pérignon Vintage 2004 by representing it as a wearable sculpted structure."
Positioning itself at the intersection of design and fashion, Rem D Koolhaas’s United Nude has collaborated with van Herpen on nine collections of highly conceptual architectural heels.
The ‘Fang’ shoe, the product of their fifth successful collaboration, has ten sharp teeth to each foot and the shape of the wedge is so complex that each one consists of fiberglass and carbon fiber, made in a slow molding process. In the well-received ‘Biopiracy’ collection, which emerged from astonishment of companies’ patented human genes, van Herpen experimented with living objects, kinetic architecture and physical interaction through fashion.
"Working with Iris Van Herpen is each time a big challenge for us as she pushes boundaries with ideas for things that have never been done before. Collaboration partners like Iris Van Herpen and Zaha Hadid give us way for our continuation in re-inventing shoes. United Nude was originally founded on this principle with our sculptural sandals just over ten years ago; breaking the rules of conventional ladies shoe-making, not for the sake if breaking them, but simply by not knowing them.”
Van Herpen’s work has been featured in various museum exhibitions, including a major retrospective touring the United States since 2015, beginning with a six-month long run at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. Six of her dresses were acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and seven of her works were exhibited in its highly successful 2016 ‘Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology’ show. In addition to the above, van Herpen’s creations have been exhibited at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, the Cooper Hewitt museum in New York, and the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, among others.
“What really interested me was the way [van Herpen] approached materials. Our culture always maintains a dichotomy between machine-made and man-made, and she is merging that.”
Three solo books have been published on the designer’s work: ‘Iris van Herpen’ by the Groninger Museum to accompany her first solo exhibit, ‘Iris van Herpen: Transforming Fashion’ by the High Museum of Art to accompany the United States museum tour, and, most recently, ‘Iris van Herpen Backstage.’
Van Herpen has received numerous awards since 2009, including the Johannes Vermeer Award, State prize for the arts (2017), the ANDAM Grand Prix Award (2014) and the Grand Prize of the European commission – STARTS (2016).
With her distinct aesthetic viewpoint, van Herpen has dressed numerous progressive musicians and actresses such as Björk (for whose videos and tours van Herpen has created several dresses), Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton, Cara Delvingne, Daphne Guinness, Miley Cyrus, Gwendoline Christie, Fan Bing Bing, Lady Gaga, Naomi Campbell, Solange Knowles, Natalia Vodianova, and Grimes. Her special projects included dressing the actress Scarlett Johannson in the film ‘Lucy’ and dressing Beyoncé for her ‘Mine’ video.
“She has got the same sort of freedom of the imagination, and attention to detail, and getting it done. She has got this very intellectual mind. There is a singularity to her process. She is monastic, unrelenting.”
“I want to add to the evolution of fashion. I hope that I can show that craftmanship and technology are not opposite, they go together. I believe science can inspire fashion.”
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