Mind the System & Find The Gap | Iris van Herpen’s Vision of the Unexpected Beauty of Imperfection

Today, I had the chance to attend my first Iris van Herpen show! Her shows are not-to-miss rendez-vous, as the pioneering Dutch designer has accustomed us to mastering associations between traditional craft and technology. For every show, she researches and finds new ways to to craft fascinating materials. Since 2007, she has been surprising us: be it hand-inflamed stainless steel wire or live performance of a dress 3D printing and weaving on the show, every collection is a new step into her rich and futuristic creative universe. And today’s show made no exception to the rule.

Widely recognised as one of fashion’s most forward-thinking designer, van Herpen continuously pushes the boundaries of fashion design. Being one of the few designers in the industry to experiment new materials for each collection, sometimes creating new ones, always avant-garde. She was recently featured in a Refinery29 video, showcasing how her team, under her direction, shaped the Bubble dress from her previous show, where the intricate little crystals are delicately scattered on liquid siliconed PU.

How can tech be merging with tradition, without compromising creation, and traditional craftsmanship? A question I often hear when animating conferences about fashion tech in Paris, I often like to answer mentioning the prodigious work van Herpen does with her team. Because unlike what one can imagine when seeing her work, her team and her craft real pieces of art, which, without her highly technical and traditional savoir-faire, couldn’t be possible.

Iris at her SS17 couture show. Credit: Now Fashion.

Iris at her SS17 couture show.
Credit: Now Fashion.

For her second-ever Couture collection, van Herpen, in collaboration with artist Philip Beesley, focused on the gaps in between the structures of her materials, rather than the structures themselves, by shaping patterns that dissimulate the body’s perspective or subtract it. By building up the patterns and then distorting them, the eye’s perspective is tricked and challenged to see new patterns occurring in between.

Glitch dress. Credit: Philip Beesley.

Digital Glitch dress details.
Credit: Philip Beesley.

Presented in the darkened basement of the Maison des Métallos (a long-time ago music instruments manufacture), in an installation by artist Esther Stocker, the Between the Lines couture collection’s design process was formed from the distortion created by glitches – short-lived faults in a digital system – drawing inspiration from the unexpected beauty of imperfection.

The hypnotic Glitch dress was made of fine black silk and an expandable lasercut mylar fabric. Mylar is a plastic sheet made of Polyethylene Terephthalate resin (PET).

Digital Glitch dress & Glitch dress. Credit: Philip Beesley.

Digital Glitch dress & Glitch dress.
Credit: Philip Beesley.

Between the Lines dress. Credit: Team Peter Stigter.

With this collection, van Herpen took her art a step further, with perfectly executed Couture pieces: like a cocon, the Between The Lines dress above, sculptured from black lasercut leather, traps the model in a futuristic lace version of spider web.

Sculptured coat. Credit: Morgan O'Donovan

Sculptured coat. Credit: Morgan O’Donovan

The Sculptured coat, a structured exoskeleton shaped coat, was made from a soft 3D hand-casted transparent PU, then hand-painted through injection molding and lined with a fine silk tulle.

The same technique was used for the Manta (shown in cover picture), Blaschka dresses (that can be seen in the above video, showing the creative process of a few pieces of the collection) and the Drapy jumpsuit below.

Drapy jumpsuit, made from fine silk tulle that is shaped with soft 3D hand-casted liquid PU shapes, that are hand-painted. Credit: Morgan O'Donovan.

Drapy jumpsuit.
Credit: Morgan O’Donovan.

The Mimicry dress, below, is a vegetal-like shaped dress, made of laser-cut leather and hand-plisséed black transparent organza – shaped into spheroid shapes.

Mimicry dress, made from laser-cut leather and organza. Credit: Team Peter Stigter.

Mimicry dress.
Credit: Team Peter Stigter.

The masterpiece of the collection – shaped from a silk tulle covered with stitched transparent 3D hand-casted PU waterdrops – felt like the model was a outerspace snowflake, closing the show. Leaving the audience astonished with visions of a fairy materials and textures.

Alchemy of Light dress, sculptured from 3D hand-casted transparent PU and hot-air-blown PetG, shaping waterdrops with a magnifying effect, that is then stitched onto a fine silk tulle. Credit: Morgan O'Donovan

Alchemy of Light dress.
Credit: Morgan O’Donovan

“This dress was made through an extensive process of six different phases,” Van Herpen told Vogue.com. “[We started by illustrating] the pattern on the computer, which was then sent to the laser-cutting company to cut it into several pieces of plexiglass. Those ‘2-D molds’ were then sent to the vacuum-molding company, which vacuum-shaped the laser-cut molds into several ‘3-D’ molds.


Alchemy of Light dress. Credit: Morgan O’Donovan.

Those 3-D molds were then hand-cast with a liquid transparent PU with an iridescent foil on the back,” she continues. “This process is very time-consuming and takes eight hours of drying time for each mold. In the meantime, another team was shaping by hand and hot air the PETG, which functions as the invisible construction to make the dress float up in the air, with several hot-air guns and metal pliers. The heat shaping was done mostly through improvisation. Many fittings were needed before finalizing the right shape. After that, all the PU molds were hand-stitched onto the invisible PETG construction, then hand-stitched to the tulle dress underneath.”

Alchemy of Light dress. Credit: Morgan O'Donovan.

Alchemy of Light dress.
Credit: Morgan O’Donovan.

What’s even more stunning about the dress is that it is truly unique, a work of art, of which van Herpen says it would be nearly impossible to recreate.

As the heat-molding process is not fully predictable, there was no pattern used,” she says. “The PETG is hand-shaped on the mannequin over a period of several weeks, so even if we tried to, it would be impossible to ever make this same dress again.

And this is exactly what we love about her work, she pushes the boundaries of couture further, considering it as an experimentation laboratory, exploring new creative territories with each new collection.

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Post written by Noémie Balmat, Founding editor-in-chief

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Interested in the future of fashion through innovation, Noémie Balmat has a valuable four-year experience in international advertising agencies and works with brands as a FashionTech consultant. Currently working for Soon Soon Soon as an Innovation consultant, she launched Clausette.cc in November 2014 to gather inspiring projects linking fashion & innovation in one place. Sensitive to the technological and scientific evolutions, Noémie often speaks at international events, such as the Hyères International Fashion Festival.

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