Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Iris van Herpen: The Future of Fashion

Iris van Herpen holding a bottle of Dom Pérignon Vintage 2004.

Fashion is now. But not in the hands of Dutch fashion designer Iris van Herpen. She projects fashion into the future, re-interpreting couture through a visionary lens. Incorporating a wide range of outside influences, from dance to 3-D computer technology, her designs blur the boundaries between art and science: Clothing as material innovation. “Creation is about constant change and is never finished. I think that is very beautiful,” said the 30-year old fashion sensation during a recent interview in New York City. The occasion was the unveiling of the latest vintage by Dom Pérignon, the 2004 Metamorphosis, for which the former apprentice to the late Alexander McQueen had created a limited-edition champagne box and ferrofluid sculpture. The latter was an extension of research done for her latest Spring/Summer 2015 womenswear collection which was created using metal powder and magnets to move the fashion forward in a new, otherworldly direction. Think spiny carapaces for the body combined with flowing fabrics to get an idea of what it looked like. For Dom Pérignon, van Herpen took the idea of magnetic attraction and applied it to the concept of metamorphosis as well as to the concept of time, an ingredient integral to the making of champagne, in particular the fermentation and aging process.

“Time is important to creation,” observed van Herpen, speaking haltingly, in Dutch-accented English. But if she appeared tongue-tied it was only because her brain was working too fast for the words to formulate. Explaining time as it relates to her own work, van Herpen, a slight woman who wears high heel booties with thigh-skimming dresses and her auburn hair tied tight in a ponytail behind the egg-like shape of her head, a look both elfin and fierce, spoke about precision and craftsmanship. When she creates, she aims to merge craft with technology, time-honoured traditions with new ways of doing things: hand-embroidered lace, for instance, with 3D printed dresses, in both static and fluid forms. Her designs grow out of a predilection for multidisciplinary research as well as collaborations with minds outside the world of fashion. They include Neri Oxman, a textile scientist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dutch architect Rem Koolhaus, musician Salvador Breed, her Amsterdam-based boyfriend, choreographer Benjamin Millepied of the Paris Opera, and digital art designer, Daniel Widrig, among others. Merging science with art has enabled van Herpen to create fashion unlike any experienced before.

As a guest member of the Chambre syndicale de haute couture in Paris, the governing body of the French fashion industry, van Herpen has created a sonic clothing collection, where fabric, when touched, emits a sound, shoes made of the entangled roots of trees, and, amazingly, clothing sparked by experiments with electricity. Her alchemist’s approach to fashion, while highly intellectual, has succeeded in creating clothes that are sensual, geared to women for whom fashion is a tangible form of self-expression. “I am a fashion designer who works with the body,” van Herpen said. “Art is a big inspiration, as is dance [her first love] and technology. I need to learn from different areas. Knowing how other people think, be it an architect or the maker of Dom Pérignon, helps me think in new ways.”

van Herpen Haute Couture

Winner of the prestigious Andam fashion prize in 2014, van Herpen is the first fashion designer tapped by Dom Pérignon to participate in its ongoing Power of Creation project. Past collaborators have included the artist Jeff Koons and filmmaker David Lynch. She was selected for her ability to synthesize disparate elements through the creative process, said Richard Geoffroy, the French brand’s chef de cave. “Her field of creation speaks to me because it is about connecting,” explained Geoffrey, a former physician who transitioned to wine – the original medicine – when first coming to work for Dom Pérignon in 1990. “Yes, it is fashion but it goes beyond that. It’s about change, about pushing the boundaries, what we have to do to renew ourselves.” For Dom Pérignon, besides gift boxes featuring the champagne brand’s embossed name inflected with an exuberant emerald green set against a black backdrop, van Herpen created a made-to-order work of art called Cocoonase, a word referring to the cocooning stage of metamorphosis. The sculpture is made of liquid metal within a magnetic field and “is constantly moving,” explained van Herpen, “So the sculpture is never finished,” she continued, quietly. “It’s always in a state of metamorphosis. The black and green symbolizes for me the nature part of the process.”

Cocoonase by Iris van Herpen
Van Herpen worked with photographer Daniel Sannwald who directed an accompanying minute-long video showing a woman emerging ghost-like from inside a green mist, a more obvious interpretation of the metamorphosis theme. Her other collaborators on the project included Dutch artist Jólan van der Wiel and Canadian architect Philip Beesley who is based in Toronto and known internationally for his interdisciplinary work involving synthetic biology and advanced computing to create responsive living sculptures. (For an example see Beesely’s Simons Aurora, a monumental piece of hanging sculpture created for the Simons department store at the West Edmonton Mall using 40 electronically active columns of various lengths harnessed to digital technology that create an undulating chain of light as shoppers pass beneath them.) Together, they developed a metal powder mixed with what The New York Times described as a flexible two-component rubber “pulled into points and peaks with magnets, creating a spiky metal-hued dress that looked ready to march off on the Crusades.”

Said dress was part of Magnetic Motion, the name given the collection of women’s clothing van Herpen debuted in Paris in September at the Pompidou Centre during Fashion Week. Inspiration for the 3D printed dresses and accessories, including shoes grown by magnets with a fixative applied, came from the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest and most powerful accelerator. Located at Swiss scientific research facility CERN, where magnetic fields are created in excess of 20,000 times greater than the Earth’s, LHC is the world’s largest single machine, built by the European Organization for Nuclear Research. It’s meant to increase our knowledge of the universe. But, by causing beams of protons and ions to collide with each other, it could, depending on who you talk to, end up destroying us all. van Herpen embraces the risks.

“That’s the power of creation,” she said, making no apologies.

– Deirdre Kelly is a Toronto-based journalist, author and internationally recognized dance critic. She writes for Dance Magazine in New York and the Dance Gazette in London, and is a contributor to the International Dictionary of Ballet (St. James Press). A staff writer at The Globe and Mail, she was her newspaper's award-winning dance critic from 1985 until 2001 before transitioning to the Style section as the fashion reporter. She has also served as the paper's rock critic and as an investigative reporter in the visual arts with a focus on art crime. The best-selling author of Paris Times Eight and Ballerina: Sex, Scandal and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection, recently re-released in paperback, she writes on dance, theatre, the visual arts and fashion for Critics At Large.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting article. Informative and well written.