This piece is part of a series on “Iris van Herpen: Transforming Fashion” to celebrate the designer’s first stateside exhibit as its travels around North America. Here we take a deeper look at van Herpen’s background and tour her Amsterdam studio where her couture creations are made. Join us again tomorrow to learn more about the exhibit.
On November 7, the High Museum of Art of Atlanta launched its first exhibit of fashion design, featuring the works of Dutch designer, Iris van Herpen. At a mere 31 years old, Ms. van Herpen has been quietly, as is her demeanor, setting the world of fashion design on its collective head. Her designs are created at the place where fashion, science technology and design all collide, and she is known for her fearless use of technology and pushing the boundaries of the materials to create fashion design. I like to say that her designs are created from materials other than textiles. Think about that – materials other than textiles. Of course, some textiles are included in various designs, and certainly as part of her ready to wear line, but so many of her fashions are made from truly unexpected items such as umbrella tines (see her Chemical Crows collection from 2008), steel wool or created using a 3D printer.
Ms. van Herpen grew up in a small village in the middle of Holland called Warmel. She says that she was not interested in fashion at a young age, but rather in ballet and dance. Her childhood home didn’t have a television, so she spent many of her formative years doing the things children are supposed to do, dancing and playing. When Ms. van Herpen started high school, she had relocated to a large city in Holland and became aware of clothes and fashion, and how clothes project an image and could give her confidence. She began to make some of her own clothes and realized she loved working with her hands and different materials.
Ms. van Herpen attended the ArtEZ Institute of the Arts in Arnheim, the Netherlands, focusing on the field of fashion. For her, fashion represented the perfect medium, as she could work with her hands and use her understanding of the female body in motion, gained from her years of dance and ballet training. During her time at ArtEZ, she interned with Alexander McQueen and Claudy Jongstra (a Dutch artist known for creating art pieces and architectural installations from hand felted material). Ms. van Herpen started her own label in 2007, and was invited to join the haute couture calendar in 2011, showing exclusively in Paris twice a year.
In April 2016, I was fortunate to spend a morning with Ms. van Herpen in her atelier in Amsterdam. Ms. van Herpen is a native of Holland, and while the bright lights of Paris and New York would certainly welcome her and her transformative designs to be a part of their fashion landscape, she keeps her studio in a nondescript building next to the Amsterdam sea.
Her studio is light, airy and is made up of about six sewing tables, lots of mannequins, four or five sewing machines and a big tabby cat who calls the studio home. (Apparently, they do put the dresses away at night just in case the cat decides one of those mannequins would make a good clawing tree). It is simple and efficient. The has about 30 different pairs of scissors with different ones being used on all the different materials that she uses in her designs.
Iris has about four people who work and intern for her making the dresses, currently haute couture and special orders. We watched them form fitting a dress made from a plastic material to the exact body measurements of the individual that ordered it. We watched another group preparing the leather laser cutouts that will be used as part of a leather jumpsuit for another famous client But, mainly we watched Ms. Van Herpen talk about her clothes. And then we got to play. She had a side room set up with the sample sizes and certain pieces from her previous ready to wear collections for us to try. It was just incredible fun. For a fashion lover and a huge fan of Iris, to be able to try on the runway looks–and leave a favorite–was simply a blast and a day a I will forever cherish.
“Iris Van Herpen: Transforming Fashion” features 45 of her most provocative designs from 15 of her collections, beginning with her Chemical Crows collection in 2008, offering Museum guests a full retrospective of her work. Come back tomorrow to get an inside look at the exhibit.