Fragile Futurity: Iris Van Herpen

Iris Van Herpen; the eponymous figure behind a fashion line infamous for its controversial reinterpretation of Haute couture, which draws a hazy line between fashion and technology. It is haute couture void of glamour and sophistication, but rich in contradiction. She draws inspiration from craftsmanship and creates fashion which is a more of a fashion installation than merely a garment. And after dressing infamous fashion muses such as Björk, Lady Gaga and Daphne Guinness, her fashion is most definitely not for the faint hearted.
Iris Van Herpen’s contradiction lies in the dichotomy between beauty and ugliness. The undeniable beauty of her creations juxtaposes her creative theme which is often rooted in decay and animalism. The garments themselves are not pretty and flowing like the Valentino we are accustomed to seeing on the catwalk, and they are most certainly not understated. Yet they have a raw edge, an unpolished veneer foreign to the pristine world of haute couture glamour. The root of her work lies in the expression of the woman and the female form, and thus she creates an evocation of art intrinsically linked with the hidden self and the body, encapsulating desire, mood and hidden truth.

Her fashion steers clear of the commercialisation of modern fashion which so often renders something that could be artistic, a commodity. It is neither a commercial tool, nor something functional, but rather a presentation of art in a dynamic form. In this sense, her fashion gets back to the very roots of this medium; when it wasn’t an industry, but rather an artistic expression.

Fashion for Van Herpen, like other art, becomes something more than merely material, but something cultural, even psychological. Fashion creates an imperative form of self-expression, and thus should not be defined by functionality, but rather compliment the evolution of the self and emotion. Her work accordingly deals with themes of animalism and metamorphosis, stressing the evolution of the human condition. Thus through her combination of unique structure, materials and forms, she creates a tension and movement in her work.

Her work is indeed a hybrid creation, relying on interdisciplinary research and collaborations with other artists, scientists and designers. Most notably her February 2012 London Fashion week collection entitled Synaesthesia, which debuted shiny metal foil attached to treated leather creating a disconcerting visual effect with no direct point of fixation. It was inspired by the symptoms of this neurological condition which causes hypersensitivity and the entanglement of sensory perceptions. Equally, her 2008 collection entitled Refinery Smoke focussed on the ambiguous qualities of this smoke which has a haunting beauty; enticing, yet poisonous. The intangibility of industrial smoke is translated into woven metal gauzes, made of pliable metal which kept the characteristics of oxidation that reflected the chemical processes of industrial smoke. There is therefore something un-human, scientific, even industrial about her work, which is the antithesis of what we readily define as haute couture.

Finally, it is not merely the boundaries of science and animalism that are crossed in her work, but also philosophy. Her most recent Paris collection was inspired by the work of Canadian architect and artist Philip Beesley who created the project entitled Hylozoic Ground. This expounded on the treatise of Hylozism, suggesting that all matter has an inherent vitality. Thus Beesley’s environmental and architectural vision is linked to the notion that inanimate objects, with which we construct our world, are in essence alive. It is this prospect of hidden vitality that inspired Van Herpen’s vision for the future of fashion.

Iris Van Herpen not only creates progressive and ground breaking fashion, but manages to question the foundations of an industry, both in terms of its production, but also its position in society. Fashion becomes something far greater than a commodity; it gains an autonomy that re-renders fashion as a self-standing art-form and an extension of personal identity.