Iris Van Herpen Spring Couture 2020

Iris Van Herpen
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By this point in her career, and with sufficient time for R&D, Iris Van Herpen can evoke just about any pattern in nature: plant membranes, feathers, fossils, fins, bubbles, sound waves—the current list is long and impressive

By this point in her career, and with sufficient time for R&D, Iris Van Herpen can evoke just about any pattern in nature: plant membranes, feathers, fossils, fins, bubbles, sound waves—the current list is long and impressive. For this collection, along with exploring the branching forms of dendrites and deep-sea hydrozoa organisms, she seemed to be evoking their natural and varied states of movement.

The first model to emerge out of darkness wore a gown featuring an intricate laser-cut black leather corset. But what caught the eye was when she began gently waving her arms so that the pleated sleeves became billowing extensions of a root structure. Further on, sound waves painted and printed onto organza spheres were layered as a tiered dimensional shape that oscillated as though underwater.

Additional designs—each attesting to Van Herpen’s technical and artistic legerdemain—fluttered, flowed, and reverberated in step with the models who, themselves, swished around the central stage like marine animals. Even an oil-painted depiction of water by Shelee Carruthers streamed softly across a loosely shaped, diaphanous dress.

Although we have observed intriguing, quivering movements from her in the past, certain others tended towards stiff. Today, what rigidity remained was attributable to the platform shoes. Van Herpen, who was a dancer before she was a designer, explained backstage that these movements and gestures represent a long journey towards animating her designs. “Sometimes a fabric feels dead to me,” she said. “I try to really bring transformation and life into my work and it’s hard because clothes and fabrics aren’t made to live but that’s maybe my ultimate dream.”

In the meantime, the dendrite drawings of neuroscientist Santiago Rámon y Cajal and the hydrozoa organisms provided Van Herpen with “micro and macro worlds that are really unexplored.” There were instances where she seemed over-stimulated by their potential—from the vaporous bursts of red and blue to the extreme, spine-like contouring and “splashes of living lace.

” Yet much the same way that Leonardo da Vinci (whom Van Herpen reads) would make parallels between the motions of the mind, the motions of the body, and the motions of the universe, she says of her work, “it is not really me that I’m looking for, but my connection to the rest of the world around me.” When her designs appear in the real world, they often look otherworldly. Or else, as several do here, they imply any number of collisions between humans and nature, which is what makes her a relevant couturier through the start of this next decade.