The Entire Cosmos Coalesces in Iris Van Herpen’s Mind
Besides showcasing 100 of the Dutch couturier’s most technologically impressive garments, a landmark show at Paris’s Musée des Arts Décoratifs offers a rare look inside a repository of her references ranging from fossil fragments to conceptual aquatecture.
Iris Van Herpen first experimented with 3D-printed clothing in 2010, before she shot to fashion-world fame for her otherworldly garments that capture a dazzling futurism. “It was a very important piece for me,” she said of the swirling wearable, whose polymer and eco-leather construction was devised with architect Daniel Wildrig. “This is when I started collaborating with architects and scientists. I started not only drawing inspiration from these disciplines, but working with them, and that really raised the level of my clothing.” More than a decade later, the Dutch couturier has carved a niche as one of the most forward-thinking designers working today. Her nonpareil vision incorporates cutting-edge technology to explore fashion as an interdisciplinary language inextricably tied to physics, biology, dance, and art.
“Iris Van Herpen: Sculpting the Senses,” a landmark solo exhibition that opened this past week at Paris’s Musée des Arts Décoratifs, showcases more than 100 of her most notable garments. There’s the radiant sci-fi–inflected gown worn by Grimes at the 2021 Met Gala, whose mirror-finish liquid silicone adornments were individually hand-cast and arranged in a 3-D “laser-cut labyrinth” onto a nude illusion bodice melted onto gradient-dyed, hand-pleated silk. (Van Herpen spent 900 hours perfecting its construction.) The dresses captivate as technological feats, but the show also brings her biggest influences to the fore. Museum-goers journey into her mind through a cabinet of curiosities packed with references from fossil fragments and crystalline lattices to Ferruccio Laviani’s glitchy wood armoire and bulbous feather sculptures by Kate MccGwire.
Van Herpen is also conscious of today’s pressing issues. One of the show’s most compelling moments arrives in Japanese collective Mé’s hyper-realistic wave installation, which overtly nods to Van Herpen’s fascination with water. While her fall 2024 couture show referenced the aquatic architecture of Jacques Rougerie and Bjarke Ingels, rising sea levels also threaten the longevity of her Amsterdam studio.
What has caught her attention lately? Artificial intelligence, but her experiments are separate from her creative process for now. When the exhibition travels to Brisbane in June, she hopes to have implemented “A-Iris” that can answer questions visitors pose about her garments in real-time. Don’t expect A-Iris to put on the designer hat anytime soon, though. “I wouldn’t want to give away the part I think is most personal and most human,” she tells Vogue. “Creativity is one of the most valuable things we have as human beings.”
“Iris Van Herpen: Sculpting the Senses” will be on view at Musée des Arts Décoratifs (107 Rue de Rivoli, Paris) until April 28, 2024.)