In honor of the opening of “Iris van Herpen: Transforming Fashion” at the storied Dallas Museum of Art this week, we’re taking a look back at Iris’s journey, the success of her first stateside exhibit here in Atlanta, and the growth of her career since. Today, we start our story with the birth of “Transforming Fashion” at the High Museum of Art, how Iris became the unlikely star of the museum’s first fashion exhibit, and my role in making it happen. Stay tuned this week to learn more about Iris’s work and where she’s headed in the future.
At some point in late 2012 or early 2013, I was asked to attend a lunch at the High Museum here in Atlanta. The museum leadership was conducting a focus group of sorts, seeking feedback on an exhibit they were considering bringing to Atlanta. I was curious and flattered that the High Museum was interested in my opinion, so off I went.
There I was met by Sarah Schleuning the High Museum’s Curator of Decorative Arts and Design, Michael Shapiro then the Director of the High Museum, Mark Wilson curator with The Groniger Museum in the Netherlands, and around ten other museum supporters. At our lunch, Mr. Wilson introduced us to the work of Iris van Herpen, a young Dutch fashion designer who, though a hit at recent Paris couture weeks, had only just opened her first exhibition at The Groniger Museum.
He shared materials and photographs of Iris’s futuristic outfits, the inspiration behind each collection, and the incredible handiwork she employed to create them. I was mesmerized by her designs and the way she manipulated technology to create fashion– truly mesmerized. I was thoroughly in favor of bringing her and her incredible work to Atlanta for the High Museum’s inaugural fashion exhibit. I was so taken with the designer at the meeting, I took home a catalog of her exhibit at The Groniger Museum, and it sits on my bedside table to this day.
Nearly year later, I was approached by the High Museum and Sarah Schleuning, to co-chair the campaign to promote and raise the funds necessary to bring “Iris van Herpen: Transforming Fashion” to Atlanta. I could hardly get the word “Yes” out of my mouth fast enough, and we got to work. My co-chair and I were tasked with raising critical funds and awareness for the first ever fashion exhibit at the High Museum for a designer who was hardly a well-known figure in Atlanta. I said at the time, “It is not like her name is Oscar de la Renta–we have to introduce her work to people and let them decide. We all went bananas over her, and they will too!”
We asked Sarah Schleuning to make a presentation like we first saw of Iris’s work and background, and invited the 100 most fashionable women we knew in Atlanta to a lunch. Support and interest abounded as we watched them fall in love with Iris’s vision, courage, and willingness to experiment. We walked out that day with checks, commitments, and our fashionable friends buzzing with excitement.
“Iris Van Herpen: Transforming Fashion” opened in Atlanta November 2015 to a party with 300 of the most fashionable in Atlanta in attendance, and later an opening night audience of over 2,300. Not only were we able to help fund the costs of the exhibit, but thanks to some incredibly generous donors, the High Museum was also able to purchase an Iris van Herpen for its permanent collection. “Iris Van Herpen: Transforming Fashion” proved to be the High Museum’s ninth most attended exhibit in its 112 year history.
In April 2016, this labor of love culminated for me in a trip to Amsterdam with supporters of the exhibit and Ms. van Herpen to tour her private couture studio. Seeing the atelier of such an accomplished fashion designer up close and personal was this fashion addict’s dream come true. At the time she was making a couture dress for Daphne Guinness and to see her work was a true privilege. Iris may be quiet and unassuming, but her art is loud and cutting edge. She is truly transforming fashion.
We’ll continue Iris’s story on the blog tomorrow with “Iris van Herpen: Behind the Magic”. Stay tuned xoxo