Dutch fashion designer and artist Iris van Herpen is widely recognized for her groundbreaking work in fashion, which combines technology and a futuristic design aesthetic with traditional couture techniques. Right from her first collection, Iris continuously challenges traditional textiles, techniques and silhouettes by using electromagnetic weaving, three-dimensional hand-cast sculpting and and early adoption of 3D printing technologies, for example. What’s more, she was creating digital couture before the metaverse became an integral part of the fashion dialogue, making her one of the pioneers in this field.
Hailing from Wamel, Netherlands, Dutch fashion designer and artist Iris van Herpen is widely recognized for her groundbreaking work in fashion, as she continues to focus on multi-disciplinary design that combines technology and innovation with traditional couture techniques. Graduating from the ArtEZ University of the Arts in Arnhem in 2006, she interned at Alexander McQueen in London which shaped her sensibility for bold craftsmanship that combined futuristic design with poetic romance. Following a second internship at Claudy Jongstra in Amsterdam, Iris van Herpen launched her own label in 2007, with an atelier in Amsterdam.
Iris van Herpen debuted her first Couture collection ‘Chemical Crows’ at the 2007 Amsterdam Fashion Week. There was no looking back. In 2011, Iris van Happen became a guest-member of the Parisian Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, part of the Fédération française de la couture. Since, she has continuously exhibited her new collections at Paris Fashion Week. The maison’s ambition to push forward sustainability and materiality is visible in its inter-disciplinary approach to art and fashion while pushing the boundaries of couture by combining tradition and innovation; hand craftsmanship and technology. Per her official website, ‘each collection is a quest to venture beyond today’s definition of a garment, exploring new forms of expression for a more meaningful, diverse and conscious fashion for the future. The brand’s visionary creations merge pioneering techniques and luxurious materials… Whether shaping a dress through electromagnetic weaving or sculpting one from 3D hand-cast transparent leather, the maison challenges traditional notions of the handmade to create ethereal garments that are radically future-facing and exquisitely feminine.’
Right from her first collection, sustainability and regeneration are pillars of the fashion brand, as Iris challenges traditional textiles, techniques and silhouettes by using electromagnetic weaving and three-dimensional hand-cast sculpting. She was also one of the first fashion designers to incorporate 3D-printing as a garment construction technique. What’s more, Iris van Happen was creating digital couture before the metaverse became an integral part of the fashion dialogue. Notably, the Dutch designer was one of the first to present 3-D-printed dresses in both static and flexible forms on the runway, in a collaboration with Belgian firm, Materialise. Her ‘Voltage’ collection explored the interaction between clothing and electricity and she used Scanning Electron Microscope technology for her ‘Micro’ collection. Moreover, she is acclaimed not just for using unique materials, but also for creating her own.
She tells Elle, “My design process is very entwined with the technological process, material developments and manipulations. Sometimes a design starts with a drape, sometimes with a material innovation or collaboration and other times with a sketch. Often we embed a new material or material manipulation into the design and we do not know beforehand if it will work. So the design evolves and changes all the time according to the technical explorations that the atelier works on simultaneously. This makes the process quite complex but very exciting and explorative at the same time.”
Celebrating female empowerment, the maison values a collaborative design process with the fashion brand’s global clientele and muses like Cate Blanchett, Beyoncé, Scarlett Johansson, Lady Gaga, and Naomi Campbell. Through symbiotic collaborations with artists from all stripes such as choreographer Damien Jalet, performative artist Björk, kinetic artist Anthony Howe, trans-disciplinary architect Philip Beesley or computational artist Neri Oxman, ‘she challenges the future of fashion by rethinking previously unimaginable ways of Haute Couture.’ So it’s no wonder she won the prestigious ANDAM Grand Prix Award for her Fall 2014 collection ‘Biopiracy’, which combined hand craftsmanship with ideas of artificial intelligence and digital technology; it’s no small feat as she was judged by the best in the business including Xavier Romatet, CEO of Condé Nast France; President, Pierre Bergé; Yves Saint Laurent; Angelica Cheung, Editor, Vogue China amongst other fashion heavyweights. Van Herpen succeeds fellow fashion designers Alexandre Mattiussi, Julien David, Anthony Vacarello and Felipe Oliveira Baptista as winner of the €250,000 prize.
Per W, for Fall 2022 couture, “Van Herpen is looking over 3-D printed fibers made from cocoa beans that form a jumpsuit with copper-coated details and upcycled organza. In another corner, a team inspects wing-like 3-D printed shoes, while others ensure a futuristic gown made of bananas that were turned into biodegradable fabric and combined with raw silk is ready for its big runway debut. It all may seem like a complex experiment conducted in a scientific laboratory, but this is just another Iris Van Herpen collection…”
Iris van Herpen has also branched into other design projects, creating a curated lingerie collaboration with Aubade as a celebration for the label’s fifteenth anniversary. She is now preparing one hundred looks for a retrospective at Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, opening in November 2023.
The maison’s ambition to reinvent the métier, pushing forward sustainability as second nature and materiality is mirrored in its inter-disciplinary approach to art and fashion. Each collection is a quest to venture beyond today’s definition of a garment, exploring new forms of expression for a more meaningful, diverse and conscious fashion for the future.
“Fashion is an instrument for change, to shift us emotionally. Through biomimicry I look at the forces behind the forms in nature, these patterns and natural cycles are my guide to explore new forms of femininity for a more conscious and sustainable fashion for the future.”
Apparel and accessories
Iris Van Herpen has to her credit ANDAM Grand Prix Award for her Fall 2014 collection ‘Biopiracy’, which combined hand craftsmanship with technology, the real with the artificial (2014); STARTS Prize, granted by the European Commission (2016); and Johannes Vermeer Award (2017). Her body of work has also been included in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in New York and the Palais de Tokyo in Paris.Van Herpen’s scientific inclination has also led to collaborations with CERN.