Iris Van Herpen’s Extraordinary Clothes Are More Like Wearable Sculptures
To call Iris Van Herpen a fashion designer would be a bit of a misnomer. The dutch designer, who does, in fact, make things that can be worn on the body, doesn’t design fashion so much as perform experiments with wearable hypotheses. Her designs are the sorts of things that are so precisely and intricately crafted that you’d feel guilty touching—let alone wearing—them.
Van Herpen, whose creative process is far removed from that of most other fashion designers, is almost wholly driven by materiality. She’s crafted dresses made from magnets, umbrella tines, and resin piped through a hot-glue gun. She rarely sketches, instead allowing the material she’s working with to help dictate the form. “It’s my direct action with the material that often is my design process,” she says. “Each technique and each material asks for another approach and process, and that’s what challenges me, to find new ways of thinking and doing.” Her work is sculptural, drawing on both organic forms and techniques that can only be achieved through technical means. She’s collaborated with biologists, computer programmers, and material scientists to create pieces that feel more architectural than sartorial—they just happen to be built around the foundation of a body.
Van Herpen has shown her work on runways and in museums, and now has her first major American show, titled Iris van Herpen: Transforming Fashion, at the High Museum in Atlanta, Ga. The exhibition is a survey of nearly a decade of work and showcases 45 pieces from 15 collections that give insight into Van Herpen’s technical and creative processes. We asked Van Herpen to choose and reflect on some seminal pieces from her career. Here’s what she chose.
Ice Dress, Magnetic Motion collection
With this dress I wanted to capture the movement of water, where it still seemed liquid but almost freezing. I used to dance a lot and movement in all her stages (from micro to macro) is a central fascination in all I make. When you see this dress on a woman wearing it, the skin and the dress become one. It’s difficult to catch where one starts and the other ends. Years back I wanted to 3D print the Water dress but it was impossible at the time to print that transparent and high in quality and fine in detail. So I made the Water dress entirely by hand (hot air gun, metal pliers and lots of patience). Now, years later, I finally succeeded in printing the motion of water, in her form of ice.
Bird Dress, Wilderness Embodied collection
is made from a nude-colored dragon-skin (a material that simulates skin and is used to make realistic masks for movies). This dress is inspired by the wilderness of people and the relationship we have with the nature around us. There are 3 birds that are fighting together and trying to fly off. The dragon-skin feathers move completely differently from normal feathers. They vibrate in all directions when you wear the dress, which creates a strange optical illusion when looking at the birds in motion. I tried to visualize the surreal movement between man and nature here. The dress looks technical in her look, but is completely handmade.
Skeleton Dress, Capriole collection
It’s inspired by my love for sky diving. It visualizes the extreme energy I feel during the one minute free-fall, where I become strangely aware of the inside of my body . This dress is 3D printed, and I developed the 3D file together with architect Isaie Bloch. The file-making took 2 months of intense drawing and a full week of printing. People often think that when you create something by machine (3D printer) that it is perfect. But this dress is a good example of the opposite. While the dress was printing, many small ‘faults’ happened because of the intense heating of the material. This makes the bones irregular and it makes it look even more real. For the design of this dress I did not only look at human skeletons but also to various skeletons of different animals (snakes, birds, insects) and different styles are mixed into this non-existing bone structure.
Mirror Dress, Voltage collection
It’s inspired by the work of experimentalist Carlos van Camp. For this collection a model was standing on top of a tesla coil, dancing with electricity that was coming out of her. Spikes of a meter sometimes. The beauty of that amount of energy and the speed of its movement coming out of the body is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. This dress is dedicated to that moment. It’s the most time-consuming dress we ever made. It took almost a year to make. The pattern is very complex, and all pieces of mirror are cut by hand and then assembled by hand.