Iris Van Herpen Transforming Fashion (Volume 2)

Bubble Dress detail, Iris Van Herpen
Iris Van Herpen, "Transforming Fashion", High Museum of Art, Atlanta (photo: CatMax Photography)
Iris Van Herpen (photo: CatMax Photography)

On November 7, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta launched its first exhibit of fashion design, featuring the works of Dutch designer, Iris Van Herpen. I am spending a few posts celebrating Ms. Herpen’s work and this exhibit of 45 pieces of her work, which will be on view at the High Museum of Art until May 15, 2016. This exhibit (along with the expansive catalog of this exhibit prepared through a collaboration of the High Museum of Art and the Groninger Museum, Netherlands and written primarily by the High Museum’s Curator of Decorative Arts and Design, Sarah Schleuning) document the evolution of Ms. Herpen’s work over the past few years and provide an interesting and rare view of one of the world’s most innovative fashion designers. Iris Van Herpen is truly a pioneer in today’s contemporary fashion world.

High Museum, Iris Van Herpen (photo: CatMax Photography)
High Museum, Iris Van Herpen (photo: CatMax Photography)

Curator Sarah Schleuning conducts an interview with Iris Van Herpen which is documented as part of the exhibit catalog, and took place right outside of Ms. Herpen’s atelier in Amsterdam, where she is surrounded by other working artists of all kinds and from whom she regularly finds inspiration and comradery. I am planning to visit her studio in Amsterdam in the spring with a group from the High Museum and am so looking forward to seeing her creative space.

Iris Van Herpin and Sarah Schleuning (photo: CatMax Photography)
Iris Van Herpin and Sarah Schleuning (photo: CatMax Photography)

Here are a few choice excerpts from that interview on what fashion and couture mean to Iris Van Herpen[i]:

Sarah Schleuning: You are known for your incredible couture designs. The idea of couture can  mean different things to different people, from celebrity pack Paris runways to a bread of loungewear. What does couture mean to you?

Iris Van Herpen: Couture is the reason I went into fashion. It is a free space, where there is time for doing research and where you have the space to experiment, to develop new techniques, to collaborate with people from other disciplines. I like that in couture I can go into my future thoughts, where I can fantasize about something and take the time to explore it. At the same time, it’s also the place where you go back in time, where you look at old craftsmanship and you try to take that into a new space today. For me, couture is the place where I can bring history and the future together into one piece, and I can spend the amount of time that I need. It’s really a place where you can dream.

Sarah Schleuning: A lot of your work seems to draw inspiration from the organic. Are you influenced by the ideas of biomimicry that nature and its systems should be seen as a primary source of inspiration and innovation in design, science and technology?

Iris Van Herpen: Yes, nature is a big influence. How can I not be? It’s the most beautiful thing that there is. It’s creation. It’s never ending. I look to nature a lot and also to the processes within nature. Even when you look at technology today, often technology is inspired by natural processes, so it’s one big loop. And it’s inspiring to be in that loop.

Water Dress, Iris Van Herpen (photo: CatMax Photography)
Water Dress, Iris Van Herpen (photo: CatMax Photography)

Sarah Schleuning: What are some of the other significant influences for you?

Iris Van Herpen: The things that influence me in my work are quite broad. I think dance is an important inspiration. Besides that, it’s architecture. It’s art. It’s a lot of artists I know personally. It’s not only the work of art but can be the artist himself or herself that inspires me. And science is something that is opening up my mind and is very much an inspiration.

Bubble Dress detail, Iris Van Herpen (photo: CatMax Photography)
Bubble Dress detail, Iris Van Herpen (photo: CatMax Photography)

Sarah Schleuning: You tend to experiment with a range of materials from the more traditional or expected to those that surprise or are not always what they seem, like metal mesh or parts of umbrellas. What role do materials play in your design process?

Iris Van Herpen: Materials are the starting point of every collection. Of course I have an idea and a direction, but in the end the materials are the deciding factor. I often feel attracted to materials that I don’t know how to handle, so the collections have a mix of more classic materials – like a silk, or a wool, or Japanese fabrics – and fabrics that are outside of fashion. For example, in Chemical Crows I used umbrella pins, and in Refinery Smoke we made wreaths of metal wire. I’ve also used materials like Dragon Skin [milky, membrane-like silicone material] that are made for the film industry to make masks, and the 3-D prints can contain a fully transparent material or a flexible silicone-like material.

Sarah Schleuning: What areas or ideal do you want to explore next?

Iris Van Herpen: There will be a lot of exciting things for me to explore within material developments. There are incredible experiments going on within nanotechnology that create potential for forthcoming materials with completely new behaviors. A range of these new materials cannot be biologically grown. I imagine products being “grown” from biological organisms that are sustainable and environmentally friendly. Four-D printing also creates an interesting mindset as it potentially creates objects that change over time. That would open up a whole new world for me in designing a dress that changes over time – I can design her movement, her metamorphosis.

So much more to come from this beautiful mind.

Do not miss. Xoxo. Me

Photography: CatMax Photography, Atlanta, GA

[i] Iris Van Herpen: Transforming Fashion Exhibition Catalogue (available for purchase here:

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