IRIS VAN HERPEN
In the realm of time, there exists the conventional ticking of clocks and then there is the extraordinary tempo of Iris Van Herpen’s universe. Stepping into the Musée des Arts Décoratifs exhibition dedicated to the trailblazing Dutch designer is an immersive journey through 16 years of transcendent creations, seamlessly blending the realms of haute couture craftsmanship with science, nature, technology, architecture, art, and dance. This unprecedented retrospective, entitled “Iris Van Herpen: Sculpting the Senses,” unfolds within the prestigious Christine & Stephen Schwarzman Galleries, previously graced by retrospectives for Schiaparelli and Mugler. Van Herpen’s singular approach spans millennia of inspiration, from ancient nautili to the cutting-edge technologies of the Large Hadron Collider. The exhibition is a masterpiece that induces awe on every level – from the technical marvels of the 100 exhibited dresses to the intimate glimpses into Van Herpen’s artistic process. The showcase transcends traditional boundaries, offering a profound exploration of her conceptual approach enriched by a curated selection of art and objects.
Amsterdam-based Van Herpen, celebrated for her astonishing collections, creates garments that evoke hybrid creatures, ethereal earth goddesses, and futuristic female visions. Worn by icons such as Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Björk, Tilda Swinton, and Grimes, her creations seamlessly navigate the realms of wearable art and permanent museum collections. While her work has been featured in retrospectives globally, the Parisian exhibition marks a significant milestone in her illustrious career. The exhibition, meticulously curated by Cloé Pitiot and assistant curator Louise Curtis, unfolds through nine thematic explorations – from Skeletal Embodiment to Mythology of Fear. Studio Nathalie Crinière’s thoughtful scenography enhances each theme, providing a backdrop that complements Van Herpen’s visual language. The display includes customised mannequins in various skin tones, contributing a human touch to the ethereal creations.
Van Herpen’s fascination with water, the origin of life, takes centre stage in the exhibition. Dresses encased in solid splashes of PetG and vaporous waves of gradient organza evoke a transformative journey. The exhibition transcends the traditional boundaries of fashion, delving into Van Herpen’s collaborations with architects, artists, and engineers like Philip Beesley, Shelee Carruthers, and Isaïe Bloch. Notably, Van Herpen was the first couturier to showcase a digitally printed 3D dress in 2010. The exhibition acts as a privileged window into Van Herpen’s design process, unveiling the complexities and motivations behind her creations. As visitors traverse the exhibition, they witness a studio space adorned with material samples, offering a glimpse into the meticulous craftsmanship involved in creating her masterpieces.
Van Herpen’s artistry extends beyond fashion, drawing inspiration from her surroundings, including Amsterdam’s old wood harbour and her hometown’s rich artistic history. Her expansive references include contemporary artworks, historical artifacts, nature documentaries, and fossil fragments, transforming the exhibition into a multifaceted exploration beyond the boundaries of fashion. The exhibition crescendos with “Cosmic Bloom,” a captivating installation featuring mannequins seemingly defying gravity, adorned in Van Herpen’s most vibrant designs. The climax is accentuated by images of the galaxy from the James Webb telescope, creating a celestial backdrop to the most recent collections. Noteworthy is the unseen photo of a model shot at CERN, underlining Van Herpen’s research-based approach.
In an era marked by technological advancements, Van Herpen embraces the future, experimenting with artificial intelligence. The visionary designer reveals her ongoing exploration with “A-Iris,” an AI system intended to interact with visitors, answering questions in real-time. However, she affirms that her designs will forever originate from her imaginative prowess, emphasising the intrinsic value of human creativity. “Iris Van Herpen: Sculpting the Senses” invites patrons to delve into the captivating world of a designer who seamlessly intertwines the past, present, and future. This unprecedented exhibition, running through until April 28th, 2024, at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, is a testament to Iris Van Herpen’s enduring impact on the intersection of art and fashion.
Article: Charles Daniel McDonald