Fashion designer Iris van Herpen is known for pushing the envelope. A guest member of the Fédération Française de la Couture, she is notorious for creating experimental materials and seamlessly weaving them into her collection, and is even responsible for introducing 3D printing to the forefront of fashion. This past Thursday, viewers had the privilege of hearing the Dutch innovator speak alongside architect Philip Beesley and museum curator Sarah Schleuning as a part of the University’s Penny Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series. Without further ado, here are my favorite van Herpen-approved nuggets of wisdom.
The designer repeatedly declared her affinity for architectural work, noting that she has actually collaborated with Beesley on several of her collections. “When I saw [Beesley’s] work, I saw the possibility of working with an architect. I started seeing that architecture can be very much related to fashion. It really opened me up to seeing material differently, to seeing a different future for fashion,” van Herpen said.
If a woman who works around the fashion calendar can do that, so can we. She acknowledged the industry’s obstacles openly, explaining, “On one hand, I am working within fashion, so I usually have three months to complete a collection, which does take certain possibilities out. But on the other, I try to forget about time when I research material and structure. I don’t see [research] as a part of a collection directly, I see it as an ongoing process within my work.”
All of van Herpen’s collaborations have been remarkably gradual processes.
“In the beginning, the conversations are much more about getting to know each other,” she said. “After so many years, all that is known, and it’s possible to go deeper and deeper into a conversation, into the way we both work.”
In fact, the designer owns her human touch. When describing a particular jacket, she noted “There is difference in detail — every piece is made by hand. They are all a little bit different in length, in size, in structure, and I think, together with the movement of the body, we can create a magical element.”
Some of us are bound to stray from the status quo, as van Herpen demonstrates beautifully.
“The way I design is not by sketching something,” she said. “The mannequins in my atelier are my sketchbook. I drape the material directly onto the mannequins, and that’s how the pieces develop. That way of designing, the draping of the material, has become very important in the structures we develop now, and I really feel it has moved us forward a lot.”
It’s up to us to make the best of them. “A lot of the material that I create comes slightly also from a frustration toward all the materials I cannot work with,” van Herpen said. “That inspires me to look at an existing material that can be worked with in a different way. It’s often very much sort of magnifying the movement of the body.”
When asked what material she does want to work with but cannot, van Herpen responded immediately: “Fire is one of them. There are so many, basically anything I can’t work with that triggers my mind to think of different options and possibilities towards the body.”
Van Herpen’s philosophies are mindful approaches that can be applied to a variety of disciplines, and something she hopes is earnest fuel for University students’ own creative pursuits.