Born in 1984, Iris Van Herpen has transcended the boundaries of the Haute Couture world by blending tradition with cutting-edge technologies. Using aspects of nature as inspiration, Iris Van Herpen blends its beauty, mystery, and chaos in her designs.
Before opening her own atelier in 2007, Iris studied fashion design at ArtEZ Institute of the Arts Arnhem. She then interned at Alexander McQueen in London learning key elements which later showed through in her designs. Her visionary sense of design led her to dress and style celebrity icons including Lady Gaga, Beyonce, and Scarlett Johansson. She then went on to win awards including Dutch Design Awards, Marie Claire Prix De La Mode, Golden Eye Award, and many others.
But what really set her apart was her use of technology in her work, creating one-of-a-kind pieces with 3D hand-cast transparent leather and electromagnetic weaving and sculpting. By challenging the traditional notions of haute couture in her work, she transformed the notion of feminism, and what was in store for the industry as a whole.
With all of her strikingly unique, futuristic and innovative designs, Iris Van Herpen has dominated the fashion world starting from her first collection “Chemical Crows”, which took place in Amsterdam Fashion Week 2007. It was her first major collection, and was manufactured entirely by hand. The Groninger Museum took no time to offer the designer to buy a part of the collection; and continued doing so along with many other museums all around the world for Van Herpen’s future creations.
One of her most groundbreaking collections afterwards was “Crystallization” in S/S 2010 London Fashion Week, inspired by the transformation of liquid into crystals. Specifically, the collection included the piece “Crystallization”, which was the first 3D-print that she had created in collaboration with the architect Daniel Widrig and company .MGX by Materialize. This was just the beginning of Iris Van Herpen’s iconic journey of merging technology with fashion, yet she had already attracted worldwide attention. What seemed as a piece composed of identical geometrical shapes attached together, completely manufactured using a computer and a 3D printer, was a revolutionary step for the fashion industry. From the same collection, another piece that grabbed particular attention was the “Splash Dress”, which seemed like a water splash, frozen in mid-air. This extraordinary piece was especially intriguing, as it seemed to somehow unite fashion and the wonders of nature, with utmost creativity.
For F/W 2011 Paris Fashion Week, she showcased her debut collection “Capriole ” which translates to “leap in air” in French. The designer explored the “existential extremes between body and mind experienced before and during a free-fall parachute jump”1. Made in collaboration with architect Isaïe Bloch and the company Materialize, the 3D-printed “Skeleton Dress” was one of the creations, which symbolized the moment of the free fall when “every fiber of the body feels as though it is growing in all directions and brings to mind a hybrid skeleton, as if the body is turned inside out”1. In an interview with Vogue, Van Herpen stated that it was a personal favorite of hers; “This dress visualizes the inside of the body outside. To me it represents freedom and imperfection, and between those two is where beauty can be found”2. Again using technology to mimic nature, the piece was one that immediately turned heads with its avant-garde looks. Another piece from this collection that grabbed attention was the “Snake Dress”, created from acrylic cheers wrapped around the model, evoking the mental state at the moment before the jump when, as Van Herpen explains, “all my energy is in my mind and I feel as though my head is snaking through thousands of bends”’1.
Not only did Iris Van Herpen continue to wow the fashion world with each of her incredibly futuristic and creative designs, mostly studying concepts of natural phenomenons, but she organized unprecedented runway shows which integrated the audience into the theme of the collections. In “Lucid ” S/S 2016, Van Herpen’s inspiration came from lucid dreaming. During the show, both the models and the audience were mirrored as one in the space, creating a close-up and intimate experience that is amplified by seventeen large optical light screens. Depending on the viewing angle, the perception of the audience that views the models continuously shifted and deluded to reflect the fine line between reality and unreality1. Hence the concept of the show was introduced to the audience not only with the designs, but also the atmosphere of the runway, creating an unorthodox experience. For her collection “Seijaku” F/W 2017, Van Herpen aimed to visualize sound waves as evolving geometric patterns on her designs. For the runway, the designer specifically selected the venue L’Oratoire du Louvre due to its exceptional acoustics, and collaborated with the Japanese musician Kazuya Nagaya to create a Zen bowl sound in the background. Another one of her collections called “Aeriform”’ F/W 2017/2018 drew inspiration from the Danish underwater artists Between Music who challenge the relationship between the body and its elemental surround, in a subaquatic environment where air is absent1. On the runway, the models walked past water tanks that had deep sea divers inside them, “developing hypnotic biophonic sound sculptures which they performed on custom-built instruments”1.
Dominating the fashion world with not only her one-of-a-kind designs but also her unforgettable runway shows, Van Herpen has undoubtedly become one of the most iconic designers in history. The unconventional nature of her brand and her futuristic viewpoint to fashion has never failed to impress her audience.
Craftsmanship & 3D Printing:
Iris Van Herpen is a real pioneer of experimental Haute-Couture.
Through combining traditional sewing methods with new technologies and materials, Iris Van Herpen continues to create innovative garments. When it comes to fashion design, 3D printing and laser cutting are relatively new techniques, but still, they are at the forefront of her work. With IVH, technology is seen as a tool to create unrestricted designs with a higher level of complexity. In Iris Van Herpen’s work, ordinary materials such as cotton, velvet, and leather coexist with alternative materials like plastic, metal, and wood. In order to connect technology with these specific materials, she often collaborates with architects and scientists in order to make her vision come to life.
Iris Van Herpen frequently uses 3D printing to create thousands of little pieces which are then hand sewn together in order to achieve the desired effect. Because she works with three-dimensional forms, Iris Van Herpen refrains from sketching her designs and reducing them to 2D representations. Instead, she uses the traditional Haute-Couture method of draping onto a dress form. She often starts with creating shapes and then experiments in draping them until she is satisfied with the outcome. Laser cutting is another technique incorporated into much of her work.
She cuts traditional materials such as lace into tiny strips in order to manipulate the fabric onto a simple dress through hand sewing, and therefore, creating a “Theatrical silhouette”.
Iris Van Herpen also uses the laser cutting technique with “mylar”, a specific type of plastic. For instance, for one of her dresses, she cut thousands of mylar strips which were then heat-bonded to velvet fabric. They were subsequently formed into tube shapes and braided onto the simple cotton dress, creating an elaborate texture.
Although many associate Iris Van Herpen with innovative technology, having grown up in a household where computers were not used, Iris Van Herpen learnt to be independent of technology and innovation. Even in sewing, she prefers the meticulous process of hand stitching over using a machine. This has influenced her work as of today. Even though she exploits technology to be able to create materials that she would not have otherwise. Iris Van Herpen affirms that craftsmanship remains at the core of her work.
Sustainability/Fashion for the Future:
Iris Van Herpen’s work in couture has always been of immense worth when it comes to experimenting, both in materials and in techniques, the Dutch designer has pioneered many ideas, her need to innovate is what makes her so relevant in today’s fashion world even with such a low amount of clothes being made in her laboratories each year.
Her most popular field of experimentation of course is 3D printing, which she has worked and perfected her craft in starting from 2011, just two years after the dawning of her namesake brand. Today her 3d printing techniques have been made more and more complex through unique materials from natural sources: Iris firmly believes in the need for a “radical shift” in the vision of fashion brands, starting from the production process to each single element, there’s so much more to be done for this art form to be truly sustainable.
Van Herpen, when asked about the value of couture other than just its artistic expression, says that she’s always seen its value as a place to experiment for larger scale ready-to-wear projects, a workshop to innovate especially materials for mass production.
Through this belief, Van Herpen has always implemented new, natural and sustainable materials in her collections: silk-like textures come from a fiber made of banana leaves, algae, glucose and cocoa bean shells engineered by the Dutch duo Eric Klarenbeek and Maartje Dros, who have also helped her in upcycling projects aimed at reusing the leftover filament powder and copper from various 3d printing processes. Another frequently utilized material in her collections is plastic which has been recovered and repurposed by the “Parley for the Oceans” project as well as pineapple based semitransparent fabrics produced by Forweavers.
Iris’ team works around three to four months every year just on engineering and experimenting materials and techniques, they all believe in the importance of materiality and slow fashion as their brand identity, each piece is curated with the utmost care to the point where only about 100 orders each year are accepted and brought to completion by the Dutch atelier.
The battle against overproduction is extremely dear to Iris, over 40% of clothes produced each year are never used or bought at all, couture in her opinion is a good way to present works and see the public’s reaction to them, by producing a very limited quantity before the designs are mass distributed and avoiding the risk of unsold collections.
Her work is aimed towards both innovating for the present, as well as involving and inspiring future generations who are still more focused on ready-to-wear, showing them the opportunities and challenges that characterize modern couture fighting for a more sustainable future in fashion, all while refusing to compromise the artistic nature of it.
A solution to overproduction Iris has been supporting is the possibility of having still to be produced designs available online to be seen, so that brands may be able to understand their own target audience’s preferences and only work on creating products that will actually be sold.
On the topic of the digital world, Van Herpen has recently involved her brand in experimental contexts using AR tech, working with Microsoft and their new HoloLens, one of her recent runway shows had clothes visible only through digital means. Yet the brand has shown reluctance to working with web3 based systems for now. Since most of Van Herpen’s designs are 3d printed, this means that they’re modeled digitally and could easily be ported to non-physical means, using UnrealEngine4 developed by Epic as well as more traditional CGI systems, the atelier’s programmers and designers have been able to create entirely digital designs that look exactly as if they would in real life, the only component holding back the brand from fully embracing a meta based collection are limits on the current tech supporting it, Iris says.