Iris van Herpen redefined the rules of couture with 3D-printed, laser-cut, technology-infused, state-of-the-art attires when she launched her eponymous label in 2007. The Dutch designer comes from the small town of Wamel (Netherlands)—she grew up as an artist who painted, danced and played the violin before she chose fashion as her primary mode of expression. Iris first worked under Alexander McQueen in London and Claudy Jongstra in Amsterdam to sharpen her skills and develop a cutting-edge sartorial language that she is now known for.
Right from her first collection which featured 700 umbrella brass ribs to her latest line which comprises fabrics made out of the cocoa bean and banana silk—sustainability and regeneration are second nature to the brand. Over the years, Iris has constantly challenged the traditional method of silhouette creation by infusing techniques like electromagnetic weaving and 3D hand-cast sculpting. Transcending the boundaries between fashion, art, architecture, science and nature—Iris’ fashion philosophy is a testament to her vision for the future. Even before the metaverse became a prominent part of the fashion dialogue, Iris was creating digital couture that was ahead of its time.
Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Naomi Campbell and Tilda Swinton are just a few global phenomenons that have been a consistent part of Iris’ lush clientele roster. Along the way, she has also collaborated with heavy-weights from various walks of life—performative artist Björk, kinetic artist Anthony Howe, choreographer Damien Jalet, computational artist Neri Oxmanth and trans-disciplinary architect Philip Beesley for her multiple couture presentations.
In an insightful conversation with ELLE, Iris van Herpen breaks down the method behind the madness and takes us through her journey so far.
ELLE: After 15 long years in the industry, how much has your design ideology evolved from 2007 to now, in 2022?
Iris van Herpen: In the early years, my design aesthetic was focused on craftsmanship, tactility, texture and organicness. Over the years, my design language extended into a focus on movement and transformation—developed into an interdisciplinary and collaborative approach that includes innovative and future-forward techniques. My design vision became softer and more futuristic at the same time, more intricate and three-dimensional—but overall, still more feminine.
ELLE: ‘Designer’ is too modest a word for the work you do. Inventor and creative-revolutionary seem fitting. How do you incorporate your design language and technological prowess in such a tandem?
IVH: My design process is very entwined with the technological process, material developments and manipulations. Sometimes a design starts with a drape, sometimes with a material innovation or collaboration and other times with a sketch. Often we embed a new material or material manipulation into the design and we do not know beforehand if it will work. So the design evolves and changes all the time according to the technical explorations that the atelier works on simultaneously. This makes the process quite complex but very exciting and explorative at the same time.
ELLE: How do you balance the mathematical/ scientific and artistic mélange during the construction of your pieces
IVH: I am still learning to accept that my ambitions and imagination are often beyond the limits of physical reality. I could write a book about all the experiments we did that didn’t work out. It’s hard, sometimes we work on tests for many months and then realize that we’re too far ahead in our minds and it still needs years to develop. I could write another book about all the un-materialised dreams I have that are not even close to reality in 2022. Some of them I might be able to start on in my lifetime, others will hopefully be explored by others. But this abstract line between reality and fantasy is a very exciting one, it makes it possible to think beyond the borders of fashion and become a larger and more meaningful language. This way fashion can intertwine with a wide scope of fields, from science to dance, from sculpture to mathematics, and from astronomy to anatomy.
ELLE: Tell us about ‘Meta Morphism’, the special collection designed to commemorate your 15th anniversary.
IVH: For this collection, I was inspired by future concepts of post-humanism and hyperreality. While the collection is influenced by these future themes, it also reflects on Ovid’s myths ‘Metamorphoses’, which was written around the 8th century. I wanted to translate the timelessness and beauty of these poems. The myths embody constant change and transformation and they are a reflection of our intangible identities. To me, the ‘metamorphoses ’ poems are about elusiveness; the moment of transformation in which something or someone transcends all categories. Ovid’s myths embody ancient visions of the modern themes of posthumanism and metaverse, the transformations were in – man & technology, man & nature and man & woman.
With the ability to recreate our digital twins in the near future, the space of soul-searching, losing a sense of self and finding new realities are life lessons. These myths—our oscillating identities—feel more relevant than ever before. The global speed of transformation on all levels of society—physically and mentally is overwhelming. And while the collection is inspired by post-humanism, it speaks to a greater message of introspection.
ELLE: Most of your work gravitates towards the ‘wearable art’ and ‘avant-garde’ mandate. Does couture in itself help sustain the brand Iris van Herpen?
IVH: Fashion to me is a form of art and a laboratory of identity—within my designs, I search for symbiotic relationships, exploring the hidden beauty at the intersection of precision and chaos, art and science, the artificial and the organic, that are blending into infinite hybrids. This philosophy of duality is a ground for all my designs. Both art and fashion are linked to our deepest desires, moods, and our most personal expressions. Couture creates a triangle of ideas, creativity and identity, like a multiverse, rather than a linear progression, it morphs meaning throughout time and can extend far beyond fashion.
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ELLE: What’s in store for the future? Aspirations on expanding or material exploration, what would Iris Van Herpen’s next step to dominion after 15 long years be?
IVH: We are working on expanding the atelier and our interdisciplinary collaborations with architecture and innovative partnerships within the metaverse. We are also working on a large retrospective exhibition that opens next year at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris and a long-term dream is to open an IVH museum, the first museum to merge fashion, science and architecture.
ELLE: Many young designers let go of their experimental gene to produce more ‘mass friendly’ collections as the revenue stream there is reliable. How can they keep their aesthetic intact and yet make a name for themselves in the industry without compromising their raw talent?
IVH: It’s about being stubborn. It’s about knowing exactly what you stand for and keep on fighting for it. Along the way, there will be many people trying to steer you and short term this might seem the best option. But long term, a strong brand DNA that stands out has so much more meaning and value. Think far and forward, think about after you passed away; it is so much more meaningful what you leave behind as a vision than the number of garments you produced. And remember it is possible, think of other designers like Rick Owens, Comme des Garcons, Issey Miyake and more.
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