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The Science-Fashion of Iris van Herpen

It comes as no surprise that Iris van Herpen interned with a fashion genius like Alexander McQueen. What is more surprising is that, Iris, age 36, a young Dutch designer who has been making fashion for the past 10 years, is already the subject of an exhibition/ retrospective at the Phoenix Art Museum.

I use the word retrospective here due the sheer magnitude of her body of work and the unique creative mind she brings to each and every one of the dresses she conceives and creates.

Fully at the intersection between couture, sculpture, science and technology lies…the art of her fashion!

Collaboration after collaboration, she explores the natural world around us, recreating its macro and micro features while never shying away from what new materials can allow her to express in the most sculptural way.

Witness her Micro Collection (January 2012). Inspired by photography of the infinitely small, Iris van Herpen worked with Scanning Electron Microscope or SEM imaging and recreated some of the micro-organisms she saw.

This led to dresses with tentacles and peculiar shapes, bringing to my mind the flying buttresses of cathedrals. Hard to believe this invisible world can be looking so strangely familiar…

Mixing 3D printing, digital imaging and laser-cut technical materials where other designers are still using fabric, thread and scissors, Iris van Herpen creations artfully err between the organic and the digital. The unexpected bonus being that these dresses can actually be wornalthough you and I perhaps need to find our inner Lady Gaga, Beyoncé or Björk to so 😉

Combined with an acute interest in natural phenomena and science made clear by the titles of her collections, Iris van Herpen defies what our eyes believe possible.

Forget futuristic prototypes when avant-garde is already so passé.

Forget about science-fiction when you can make science-fashion and let’s hit the runway!

Crystalization (July 2010):

Iris van Herpen made a Splash dress with a PET collar shaped using a blow dryer and pliers. Stunned as if splashed by a bucket of water myself, I forgot to take a picture so check out this one I found in an Hyperallergic article:

Then, check the first ever 3D printed top to make it on a runway.

Nowadays, 3D printing is a well-known technology, part of our vocabulary but in 2010, this was avant-garde.

Capriole (July 2011):

A snake dress made with writhing acrylic sheets.

Cut these acrylic sheets with jagged ends and they seem to be multiplying like ice flows.

This dress was inspired by the algorithmic work of architect Michael Hansmeyer.

Hybrid Holism (July 2012):

Hylozoism is the ancient belief that all matter is in some sense alive. Rest assured, I did not know this term before visiting this exhibition 🙂

Using acrylic sheets again, Iris van Herpen makes her dresses do just that in the most sensual way.

Voltage (January 2013):

Voltage is a collaboration with Philip Beesley in which they explored new materials evolving with the energies of their environment.

Based on the unpredictable power of electricity, these dresses are made with prismatic mirror foils, laser-cut acrylic and microfibers.

Wilderness Embodied (July 2013):

The idea of Nature constantly growing is clearly visible in this collection.

With sculptural materials “grown” using magnets, Iris van Herpen obtained a topographical effect with stalagmite-like protuberances. Enhanced with jewel-tone iridescence, the effect of these iron filings mixed with resin is of a carapace of reptilian quality, hardened, encrusted just as natural forces take over the human body.


Biopiracy (March 2014):

Dress with a halo, filled with hand-blown glass balls.

Magnetic motion (September 2014):

If by now all these new materials are making you wonder if these dresses are more Artificial Intelligence than artisanal, then look at this one marrying both worlds.

Made with thermo-formed laser-cut acrylic, it mixes technology and handcrafted details as this new material is hand-shaped into conical shapes which Iris van Herpen chose for their superior reflective patterns.

The results: 3D geodesic sculptures where it is hard to know where the organic ends and the digital starts.

Hacking Infinity (March 2015):

Hand-burnished metal gauze, made of woven tiny stainless steel threads, hand shaped to obtain a plissé effect makes for an ethereal dress while woven brass tines recycled from children umbrellas makes me a definite fan (pun intended!) of art exhibitions like this, defying expectations, pushing the boundaries of materials and definitions.

Bravo Iris van Herpen. And bravo Phoenix Art Museum for supporting art in all its shape or form.

Don’t miss this. On until May 13, 2018.

For more fashion on Reinventingrid, check my post on Dior and Balenciaga.

© 2018 Ingrid Westlake

All pictures by Ingrid Westlake, unless otherwise stated.

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