Iris van Herpen Is the Future—and Futurism—of Couture

Dutch designer Iris van Herpen can’t find the right words for her work, her aesthetic or the exquisite humanoids she’s creating. As protean as it gets, she morphs away from description, defying its constraints. It is, after all, very complex, highly elaborate stuff. She uses materials more often associated with architecture or computers, as was the case with her spring 2011 collection, shown among the Paris haute couture collections. If couture needed something new, and now, this could be it…

How do you describe this decadent world you’re creating?
For me, personally, every collection is such a different world and yet it is my entire world. So it’s difficult to give one name to all these places. I start with a certain bit of inspiration, but I collect more as I work on the collection, so it’s quite a journey I take.

Tell us about your collaboration with milliner Stephen Jones for spring.
I went to the exhibition of his work at the MoMu in Antwerp. It was the first time I’d seen so much of his work together in one place. I met him there, at the opening, and we just clicked. His vision, the way he designs and thinks of things is so interesting to me. We decided to do something for my collection.

How did that come about?
He asked me a million questions and came up with the idea to give the pieces senses, because fashion, and especially haute couture, is about giving people emotions. You have to think about emotions more than visuals. The pieces related to a particular sense, like sound, for example. I think it brought them to life.

The collection also seemed to be about the computer and digitalization. Were they designed on a computer?
Some of the pieces were done by handwork and some of them were made using three-dimensional drawing on the computer. It was funny to me, because people thought some of the handwork pieces were made using the computer. It was a nice surprise for me because the way they are made is so different.

Is working on a computer more freeing?
That’s what I thought at first, too. (Laughs.) The technique is evolving quickly but, of course, there are limitations. Still, if you know your limitations and work with them, the result can be even better.

Who has been your favorite couturier lately?
I very much like what Riccardo Tisci is doing for Givenchy couture. It is original craftsmanship with a new look and feel. It is traditional and futuristic at the same time.

What do you feel haute couture needs now?
It needs a new image, new techniques, new experiments, new shapes, new materials, and modern concepts, as it is the future and inspiration of fashion.

The fabrics and materials you used were quite new as well.
Yes, they aren’t unusual, but they are when used in fashion. There was one material that was made up of tiny strings of metal that are woven and burned. Because the material is so natural, you see the oil colors in it, so we didn’t use any paint. Many of the fabrics are made in Italy, with one featuring silk on one side and, again, metal on the other. The silver dresses that looked quite organic stayed flexible and moveable. The dress is finished but, if I want, I can change it simply by moving this material in a different way.