Most fashion is cyclical. Ebbing and flowing from our trend-driven conscious as we either lament or celebrate its return. This sartorial revival culture, however, begs the question of the existence of true originality. Are there still designs so unique they can’t be pigeonholed nor linked to a prior influence? Is there still such a thing as spontaneous creativity?
If you are Iris Van Herpen then you can quite confidently answer, yes. The Dutch designer has become something of a cult hero for her distinct type of science-fashion. Her designs are archetypal for their otherworldly futurism, their particularly oceanic regime and their mesmerising fluidity. This year marks the 15th anniversary for the 38-year-old’s eponymous label. A career born from a technical arts degree, Van Herpen celebrated her milestone yesterday with another breathtaking presentation – a blend of fashion physicality and virtual multimedia.
Van Herpen has long employed the prowess of technology, experimenting with 3-D printing since her early days. She now combines methods both traditional and exceptional to create her delicate yet spectacularly sci-fi world, and employs exemplary, if unusual, commodities to do so. Fuelling sustainability through repurposing and upcycling (with materials like banana leaf, raw silk, upcycled organza and unique fibres) many are created via 3-D printing to created their shredded kirigami form. The result is a feathery lightness – a fine art construct that invents a type of fictional fossil vertebrae. Or reflects the intricacies of a vascular system. The architecture of her fashion is so lithe it dances like the mesmerising sway of coral in a soft tide – while also being, incomprehensibly, a wearable textile.
For this collection, in a narrative inspired by Ovid’s 8th Century literary poem Metamorphoses, Van Herpen conjured his depiction of the fundamental human experience. An existential dedication through physical garments, the presentation was also to include a selection of digital creations to be worn by avatars in a unique sequence. However, due to technical operators coming down with COVID this part was unfortunately cancelled. Van Herpen is a champion of metaverse opportunity, her aesthetic and ethic has always been about moving forward. She explains that as we attend more and more digital events our acceptance of the neo-world, and our own inevitable augmented personas, will extend to eventually desiring to be digitally well dressed, too.
Perhaps there’s a kind of grim irony that this side of her show could only happen if the technology lined up. That although the metaverse is hovering above our future like a particularly daunting episode of Black Mirror, it is also at the mercy of human intervention. Whether we’re on board or not, the truth is the next generation of fashion lovers will most likely purchase as much physical fashion as they will NFT alternate realty design.
For now, however, watching the living, breathing craftsmanship of Van Herpen’s three-dimensional masterpieces is all the spoils we need. The wrapped organza Aphrodite gowns that billowed in dramatic proportions, the extreme bronze flaming bodysuit with the beautiful juxtaposition of both soft sheer silk and sculptural claw fasteners and the super sea urchins gowns, embroidered with feminine form and drawing parallels to the surreal silhouette appliqués of Elsa Schiaparelli – another female renegade and pioneer of fashionable artistic liberation.
Van Herpen’s star is rapidly on the rise, she has become a spotlight name for the annual Met Gala fantastical. Solange Knowles, Grimes, Winnie Harlow and Lady Gaga have all worn her gravity-defying looks, some so spectacularly theatrical they’ve became instantly iconic. Van Herpen’s boundary-pushing is challenging the industry to look beyond the status quo to find new, responsible ways to produce truly unique, avant-garde fashion. And isn’t that exactly what the future of haute couture should be?