For visionary Dutch fashion designer Iris van Herpen, fashion is tantamount to worldbuilding. Since 2007 she has been dazzling the fashion world with collections inspired by everything from lucid dreaming, scanning electron microscopy, synaesthesia, and Egyptian mummification to fluid dynamics and crystallization, radiation, and black magic and alchemy by virtue of a murder of crows living near her studio.
Van Herpen’s models walk the runways wearing tangible dreams: industrial smoke turned diaphanous attire, dresses that look like the skeletons of alien creatures, raiments shaped after electromagnetic waves or digital information streams, dresses that look like they were hewn from buildings transformed by the dream designers from Inception, or terraformed earth turned haute couture.
While her collections may appear as though they’re the product of dream power and sorcery, van Herpen’s garments are the result of a fascinating blend of cutting-edge design technology and traditional handwork techniques. Forever innovating, she is obsessed with finding new materials and processes. In 2011 van Herpen became the first fashion designer to incorporate 3D printing into her work. But innovation beautifully shares the stage with time-honored methods. Dresses formed by 3D printing, injection molding, and laser cutting are later enhanced with exquisitely detailed handwork, most of which is done by van Herpen herself.
Now a career-spanning collection of van Herpen’s creations has left the catwalk to form a traveling exhibit entitled Iris van Herpen: Transforming Fashion, currently showing at the Grand Rapids Art Museum.
Iris van Herpen: Transforming Fashion features 45 haute couture outfits carefully selected from 15 of van Herpen’s collections designed from 2008 through 2015: 18 pieces from the designer’s most recent lines and a selection of her shoe designs, and 27 pieces from van Herpen’s solo exhibition at the Groninger Museum, Netherlands.
In addition to being able to view van Herpen’s work up close, the exhibit also features samples of some of her materials which have been made available to visitors to touch, a tactile dream come true. According to Hyperallergic, the actual textures are often surprising compared to their appearance.
“Whereas the materials in the “touch pool” are soft and rubbery, on the runway or in the exhibit they seem like they would be rigid. In a way, the experience reinforced the way that the image and reality of fashion can be radically divergent.”
Iris van Herpen: Transforming Fashion is showing at the Grand Rapids Art Museum through January, 15, 2017. Our fingers are crossed for another US exhibition location to be announced after that.
Unless otherwise noted, photos by Sarah Rose Sharp for Hyperallergic or Bart Oomes for the GRAM.