Iris van Herpen: Futura Couture

The Dutch Fashion Prodigy Opens the Doors to Her New Amsterdam Studio

Photographer Jouk Oosterhof steps into the old naval warehouse studio of young haute couture designer Iris van Herpen. Making her Paris debut with last year’s Escapism collection, Van Herpen launched her own label in 2007 after studying fashion design at the Arnhem ArtEZ Academy and interning at Alexander McQueen in London and Viktor & Rolf in Amsterdam. Lauded for her intricate sculptural creations made using advanced 3D printing techniques, Van Herpen has taken inspiration from synesthesia, mummification and, for her last Paris show Micro, the Scanning Electron Microscope pictures of retired science photographer Steve Gschmeissner. “A few alien-looking pieces were standing on dolls,” says Jouk Oosterhof of entering the workshop. “It was completely silent, even the music was almost non-existent, no talking, just working and maybe some whispering. Her shyness influences the atmosphere.” Recently concocting outfits for Björk’s Biophilia project, Van Herpen has seen her dresses—and her shoe collaboration with Rem Koolhaas’s United Nude—worn by the likes of Lady Gaga, Solange Knowles and Lindsay Lohan. As her first major solo exhibition opens at the Groninger Museum in the Netherlands, the designer offers NOWNESS a rare glimpse into her unique world.

Do you challenge yourself to make impossible things, like dresses out of smoke or sculpting splashes of water?
Yeah, it’s also a link for me to the future. How interesting would it be if you could wear non-material things like smoke or water? I really think in the future it will be possible. We’ll be wearing things that are non-material, like a hologram that is a dress around you. You already have telephones where the shape of the person you are speaking to comes out of the phone as a hologram.

So does fashion feel like sculpture to you?
I make sculpture dresses, but I do see my dresses as different to sculpture. I really need the movement of a person inside my clothes to make the whole thing alive and give it purpose. It gives an identity to the person, while the person gives identity to the piece.
How did Steve Gschmeissner’s ESM images inspire your recent Micro collection?
The strange idea that there is this whole microscopic world around us, a layer of material that is so tiny but still alive. It’s not even insects, it’s just a few cells. The structures and shapes at that scale are so interesting. I’m fascinated by these really tiny things for which you wonder: is this alive or is it just material? How does that change human behavior?

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