Iris van Herpen explores the world of synthetic biology

Syntopia: when the organic interlaces with the inorganic

in brief

Hosted at Le Trianon in Paris, the AW19 Couture collection from van Herpen once again pushes the boundaries of techniques. With her creations often being qualified as futurist, this time again the Dutch designer proves that the future has plenty of room for the delicacy of handiwork and craftsmanship.


Attending an Iris van Herpen show is something special during the Couture Week in Paris. Since 2007, the designer has been collaborating with artists around the world for both her creations and the runway set up, creating one of a kind spatial experiences to show her intricate creations. This time, for her latest collection Syntopia, she collaborated with Lonneke Gordijn and Ralph Nauta, the artists behind the Studio Drift. Inspired by their biomimic artworks – which translate natural processes by breathing life into delicate immersive sculptures through movement – the Dutch designer asked them to create a spatial kinetic installation, ‘In 20 steps’, made of 20 delicate glass wings representing all the different steps of flying in an abstract way.

Wings ☁️☁️ @irisvanherpen #hautecouture

Une publication partagée par Soo Joo (@soojmooj) le

The oneiric set up transported us into this new van Herpen exploration trip as discreet spectators of the fragility of new worlds living and soaring together, as we were observing the intricate installation delicately move in symbiosis with the models as they were going down the runway. Syntopia acknowledges the current scientific shift in which biology converges with technology and visualizes the fragility and power within.

“For this collection I looked closely at the minutiae of bird flight and the intricate echoing forms within avian motion. The artists Studio Drift and the scientist Etienne Jules Marey inspired me to look more closely at the draping of a garment through chronophotography. By slowing down time into split seconds I started breaking down the usual draping of fabric, to then layer the milli-seconds all slightly shifted, like the layering of a bird’s feather” commented the designer.

Iris van Herpen ~ Syntopic knee length Coat ~ Behind the scenes Photography by Molly SJ Lowe

Opening the show, a series of Syntopic coats and dresses mixed traditional weaving and digitally designed weaving. Made of laser-cut wool woven with leather through parametric file making, they featured lenticular pearl material, creating a floating vision of nude colors as the model moved.

Iris van Herpen ~ Aeolian nude Dress ~ Behind the scenes Photography by Molly SJ Lowe.

Mesmerizing, the Aeolian dresses duo play with the eye of the viewer, thanks to the transparent organza’s iridescent reflections. Pleated into halfwheel plissé panels, the organza is then liquid-coated, uncovering the body of the model as the transparent folds cross each other in different directions, like glass wings in the air.

Iris van Herpen ~ Inside a Second voluminous cape Dress ~ Runway
Photography by Yannis Vlamos.

The Inside a Second technique translates the artistry of Studio Drift and the chronophographic lines of birdflight into thousands of two-toned transparent organza layers, which are laser-cut and heatbonded with mylar and cotton, draping like time-lapse motion. Here we can really see how van Herpen was inspired by the current research shifts within synthetic biology, as the dresses moved in an intricate world in between bio-inspired shapes and technologically enhanced craft.

Iris van Herpen ~ Dazed mask ~ Behind the scenes
Photography by Molly SJ Lowe


The Mimesis dress, as shown below (above is a close-up to the model’s Dazed mask), shows bird soundwave patterns. These were laser-cut of mylar and black cotton, then heat-bonded to transparent black acrylic coverts, layered like a feather’s architecture.

Iris van Herpen ~ Mimesis Dress ~ Behind the scenes Photography by Molly SJ Lowe.

Closing the show, just like a rendez-vous of Iris’ shows, the last design to be presented can be described as a sculpture for the body. Shown below, the Syntopia dress mimics the bird soundwave patterns. Laser-cut of stainless-steel and black cotton, the patterns are then heat-bonded onto transparent black silk, layered like a feather’s architecture. 

Iris van Herpen ~ Syntopia Dress ~ Behind the scenes Photography by Molly SJ Lowe.


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