“Always,” Iris Van Herpen told Surface during an interview once when asked if she’s experimenting with any new fabrics. “It’s a continuous process, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop.” The Dutch couturier has long captivated the fashion world and beyond with her otherworldly garments that employ forward-thinking technologies to capture a dazzling futurism. Her latest runway outing celebrates her studio’s 15-year anniversary through the lens of Ovid’s 8th-century masterpiece Metamorphoses.
Each dress skews sci-fi—a Van Herpen signature—but one copper-toned garment stands out from the rest. The billowing dress, worn by Cindy Bruna, is the result of an unlikely union between Van Herpen and Magnum ice cream. Fashioned entirely with sustainable materials that reference the Belgian chocolatier’s plant-based dessert, it’s the first haute couture vegan dress made using cocoa beans. While most brand collaborations of this type can feel gimmicky and engineered for social media shareability, the gown’s pioneering use of green materials is noteworthy.
Van Herpen’s fluid forms evoke the viscosity of melted chocolate. Plant-like body embellishments are draped and entwined with upcycled and pliseed organza, while other 3D elements were printed using innovative Selective Laser Sintering technology. “The materials are very future-orientated, but with a natural twist,” Van Herpen tells British Vogue. “[The work] we’re doing with these materials is not exclusively for us; these materials are available for other brands too. A very important part of the solution is collaboration; we have to think more like a community.”
The dress arrives as an unexpected reprieve as the fashion industry navigates its fraught relationship with sustainability. Consumer appetites for ethical fashion are rising, especially as textile waste accumulates in landfills, harmful production processes become transparent, and truths about plastic-based vegan leather emerge. Major brands like Stella McCartney and Allbirds have embraced plant-based leathers that are cruelty-free, low-impact, and made of natural sources such as pineapple leaves, mushrooms, and kombucha cultures. Much work remains, however—one of the industry’s leading sustainability rating systems was recently exposed as rating synthetic, petrochemical-based textiles known for their poor environmental impact more favorably than natural textiles.
It’s hard to discuss transformation and the future in 2022 without mentioning Web3 and the metaverse. Fashion brands have made stilted forays into the next frontier by dressing cartoonish avatars with awkward digital clothing, with mixed results. The metaverse was indeed on Van Herpen’s mind when devising her milestone runway show, and she had partnered with Microsoft to fuse the digital and physical realms using augmented reality, but a last-minute Covid diagnosis prevented it from happening. Technical mishaps aside, Van Herpen remains bullish on blurring the lines between digital and physical, telling Grazia that she anticipates our eventual acceptance of a hyper-real future will create demand for stylish avatar outfits. For now, her physical creations are doing the trick.