Iris van Herpen

I discovered the fascinating world of iris Van Herpen’s creation thanks to a YouTube video. For a long time, I’ve been subscribed to a YouTube channel called Hautelemode, created by Luke  Meagher. In his channel, he talks about the coming-up high fashion collections, he reviews celebrities’ looks in red carpets… In one of these, I saw a celebrity (I don’t remember who it was) and her dress was the definition of beauty. It was mind-blowing, so I immediately looked for more information about this captivating designer. Also, Luke made a video about one of her collections, which I absolutely recommend.

From minute 7:40, he talks about Iris Van Herpen. Source: YouTube

Iris van Herpen (born June 5, 1984) is a Dutch fashion designer known for fusing technology with traditional Haute Couture craftsmanship. Van Herpen opened her own label Iris van Herpen in 2007. In 2011, the Dutch designer became a guest-member of the Parisian Chambre. Van Herpen is known for creating elaborate, sculptural couture fashion collections. She often collaborates with architects to help her develop the unusual materials and techniques she uses in her designs.

In fact, Van Herpen was one of the first fashion designers to use 3D printing in her collections and lasing cutting and plotter machines, creating complex and mesmerizing structures (some of them inspired by bone structure) and futuristic and fluid textures and forms. However, she has recently focused on the use of technology to create softer materials that behave more like traditional fabrics.

“The 3D printer becomes more like a new form of embroidery,”

Van Herpen in an interview. Source: Dezeen

Sensory seas, Hypnosis, Shift souls, Syntopia, Ludi Naturae, Aeriform, Between the lines, Seijaku, Lucid, Wilderness Embodies, Voltage, Hybrid Holism, Micro, Caprisole. These are the names of all the brand’s collections, which reflect nature’s importance in their work. Van Herpen is inspired by the fluidity and complexity of natural forms. Even if it is objectively difficult to recreate the forms and texture, thanks to the appliance of high-tech van Herpen can majestically evoke just about any pattern in nature. For instance, in her collection “Hypnosis” the pieces were “sentient beings” that breathed and came alive with the wind, replicating the energy and force of nature. Basically, the collection consisted in a hypnotic visualisation of nature’s tapestry and of the cycles of our biosphere that interweave the air, land, and oceans.try…) moving in an ethereal way to symbolise the cycle of life. 

Regarding materials, van Herpen looks are made from traditional materials like silk and satin, as well as aluminium and stainless steel, apart from the 3D structures. 

Van Herpen’s pieces are an ode to nature

“By bringing form, structure and  materials together in a new manner, I try to suggest and realize optimal tension and movement.”

Iris Van Herpen. Source: Dezeen

Biomorphism and Iris Van Herpen (and Gaudí)

Summed up, Biomorphism models artistic design elements on naturally occurring patterns or shapes reminiscent of nature and living organisms. Taken to its extreme it attempts to force naturally occurring shapes onto functional devices. Within the context of modern art, the term was first coined by the British writer Geoffrey Grigson in 1935 and subsequently used by Alfred H. Barr in the context of his 1936 exhibition Cubism and Abstract Art. Besides, Biomorphism has connections with Surrealism and Art Nouveau. Basically, Biomorphism  focuses on the power of natural life and uses organic shapes, with shapeless and vaguely spherical hints of the forms of biology. Therefore, biomorphic architecture is the one designed directly influenced by the animal, vegetal and human anatomical structure. It is harmonic, since it imitates natural forms, which are the best representation of perfection. 

Apart from being modernist, I believe that The Sagrada Família church by Antoni Gaudí in Barcelona could be considered biomorphic architecture. It contains many features inspired by nature, such as branching columns intended to reflect trees. Gaudí was highly inspired by his three passions: architecture, religion and of course, nature. This way, he created an organic style based in natural forms and textures. Gaudí studied organic and anarchic geometric forms of nature thoroughly, searching for a way to give expression to these forms in architecture. 

I have been talking about Biomorphism because from my point of view, there is an obvious link between Iris Van Herpen’s work and biomorphism. Biomorphism treats the same way Iris Van Herpen treats nature.

Iris Van Herpen Architecture

Van Herpen’s collaborations with architects have not only influenced her fashion design, but also led to her contributing to buildings. In fact, in 2019, she worked with Neutelings Riedijk Architects to help design sculptural, three-dimensional panels for the extension of Leiden’s Naturalis Biodiversity Center in.

Together they have wrapped the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in over 1000 metres of delicate concrete friezes that merge fossil forms with the fabric of the designer’s collections. Each of the orange stone blocks, which contain the museum’s nine galleries, is wrapped in a frieze designed by Van Herpen that combines couture fashion with rock formations and fossils. Each of the 263 panels that wrap the blocks were moulded from concrete and small-grained white marble aggregate to create a delicate feel that is reminiscent of fabric.

“I thought of the beautiful work of marble sculptors like Gian Lorenzo Bernini and the way they captured soft pleated silk in stone so beautifully and so delicately,” (…) “The intention really was not to go away from my couture process too much, but instead to still it, and to disembody it,”

Iris Van Herpen in interview for Sezeen. Source: Dezeen

To create the form Van Herpen looked at numerous stone formations and fossils within the museum’s collections, as well as travelling to see formations in situ. As a matter of fact, she travelled to Tenerife to contemplate volcanic rock formations, and to other areas to understand erosion and the consequence of water throughout time.

“Watching these textures is like time travelling.” (…) “This eternalised life in stone is breathtaking, these frozen forms moved me to think of stone as a drape material, like fabric,” (…) “I started to think about architecture like the archaeology of a dress.”

Iris Van Herpen in an interview. Source: Dezeen

About the centre, the galleries are connected to the existing building by the atrium, which is kind of the public entrance space for the museum and contains a large staircase that provides access to the exhibitions. This light-filled space is also constructed from numerous prefabricated concrete elements, creating a pattern of hexagons and circles.

Although this building doesn’t have the usual aspect of biomorphic architecture, thanks to the intervention of Van Herpen it also has a strong connection with nature. However, the main reason why I decided to talk about is to show the strong and obvious bond between architecture and fashion, to show how both arts come from the same place. Indeed, Van Herpen isn’t the first fashion designer participating in an architectural project, or vice versa.

Final thoughts

I totally believe we’ll be seeing architectural thinking entering the fashion world both high and low more in the future. There is an obvious link between the two of them: they both take inspiration from each other. In the end, every good piece of architecture or fashion looks for the discovery of a new concept, new material, new techniques… and a new level of beauty. Both fashion and architecture consist in giving form to ideas, to creating a space to reflect our thoughts.

Sensory Seas collection. Source: YouTube

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