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IRIS’ked It All for Fashion Tech

How Iris Van Herpen, guest member of the Parisian Chambre De Syndicale de la Haute Couture, redefined the societal definition of couture with the press of a button.

Iris Van Herpen is a fashion designer with expansive and almost unimaginable visions. Her catwalks become petrie dishes as her laser cut garments transform human bodies to the likeness microorganisms and 3D printed garments mimic the structural nature of exoskeletons. The 35 year-old, Dutch designer is best known for pioneering the fusion of fashion and technology in the design and production processes of creating a garment.

Her designs both physically and metaphorically bend and break the traditional rules typical of Haute Couture and redefine what labels a garment as such. Similarly to her former employer, Alexander McQueen, Van Herpen doesn’t shy away from the possibilities that technological advances can provide for the fashion industry, in fact, she embraces them with open arms.

In 2010, Iris Van Herpen experimented with incorporating both 3D printing and architectural design in her garments for the first time, thus catapulting her onto the map as a serious designer and trailblazing an opportunity to expand fashion into something bigger than itself. Rather than reimagining the cyclical nature of fashion like most designers, Van Herpen found a tangential route that parallels the innovative path of technology and science. Van Herpen took what we know fashion and couture to be, and flipped it on its head. The needles, thread and fabric were apparently traded in for 3D printers, a hot air gun and pliers according to the press release of Van Herpen’s 2010, Crystallization collection; one that led to a beautifully choreographed union between art and science. The collection was an homage to the notion of water interchanging between its natural states of matter inspired by the Stedelijk Museum also known as “The Bathtub”.

The museum building was designed by Benthem Crouwel Architects, whom Iris Van Herpen was collaborating with for her collection. The depiction of soft and fluid water and structures as ice crystals in her garments were brought to life with a sheet of polyethylene terephthalate, a blow- dryer to soften the material and pliers to manipulate it into her desired shape. Polyethylene terephthalate was not the designer’s first choice of material to produce her collection, in fact it was about her 30th.

Initially wanting to have each garment 3D printed, the innovator quickly learned that 3D printing technicians hadn’t yet developed a transparent material that could both print reliably and maintain its structure; therefore she had to reinvent the wheel.

“I imagine a technique or material that doesn’t exist yet. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t,” Van Herpen noted in regards to choosing the material for her 2010 collection.

“Something can use you or you can use it yourself and I think there’s a big difference. I remember, in the beginning, I adjusted my design process to the 3D printer which was interesting to me because it forced me to make decisions at a very early stage,” the designer said in a 2016 interview with Andrew Bolton for the MET’s Manus X Machina exhibition where her strides in fashion and technology were praised.

Since then, Iris Van Herpen has continued to use the newest innovations to help create her masterful collections.

“The process of discovering something and to work on something, i think that’s my ultimate joy. When something is finished it’s nice but there’s no progress anymore.”

Said Van Herpen, “I think that’s why I constantly have the energy to try something that I don't know yet.”

Every one of her collections has been a new discovery of what works in combining modern technologies with the history and tradition of Haute Couture. Some people refer to the designer as ‘futuristic’ an adjective Van Herpen disagrees with and in a way, both parties are correct. Dress making and design has been around for hundreds of years and the process of creating a garment has never changed. Sure, the amount of colours in a rainbow may have multiplied and sewing machines were invented to help stitch more efficiently and symmetrically but the basics of creating a garment have essentially stayed the same. This never changing process seems modern to most because it is still how most designers create their collections, leading people to see Van Herpen’s designs as futuristic.

Van Herpen’s designs however reconfigure the notion that fashion has only one production process and shows us that there are more ways to create a wearable and beautiful couture garment. She is not futuristic, she is not the inventor of the 3D printer or laser cutters but instead she is a visionary who’s initiative to think outside the box has shown us how to use modern technology and tools effectively without losing the integrity of Couture and high end fashion. No designer blends haute couture, technology and art better than Iris Van Herpen.


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