ExhibitionsIris van Herpen: Transforming Fashion
Past Exhibition

Iris van Herpen: Transforming Fashion

November 7, 2015 – May 15, 2016

Experience the bold vision of one of today’s most original fashion designers with 45 stunning outfits from 15 collections in Iris van Herpen: Transforming Fashion—on view for the first time in North America in the High Museum of Art’s fashion debut.

Chemical Crows, Skirt, Collar, January 2008

Ribs of children’s umbrella, industrial boat filament yarns, cow leather, and metal eyelets
Groninger Museum, 2012.0191.a–b
Photo by Bart Oomes, No 6 StudiosFor her Chemical Crows collection, van Herpen took inspiration from the alchemists’ desire to turn mundane metals into precious gold. She is interested in manipulating functional materials into extraordinary works of high fashion. In this case, a broken umbrella gave van Herpen the idea for this collection, whose concept was triggered by the presence of a group of crows living near her studio. Van Herpen carefully hand fastened the brass tines of hundreds of children’s umbrellas together to create a metal fabric, transforming these often overlooked parts into extravagant sculptural protrusions that invoke the form of birds’ wings.


Refinery Smoke, Dress, July 2008

Untreated woven metal gauze, cow leather, and cotton
Groninger Museum, 2012.0196
Photo by Bart Oomes, No 6 StudiosRefinery Smoke is based on the astonishing beauty, the ambiguity, and above all, the elusiveness of industrial smoke. Seen from a distance, smoke provides a fascinating and dynamic spectacle: at times it seems to be alive, but it also harbors something sinister and can even be toxic. Van Herpen has manifested these ideas in a metal gauze that she had specially woven for the Refinery Smoke collection. The material, which is unusual in the fashion world, consists of innumerable fine metal threads. The dresses started as silver gray but have oxidized over time to a reddish-brown, serendipitously reflecting the dual nature of industrial smoke.


Radiation Invasion, Dress, September 2009

Faux leather, gold foil, cotton, and tulle
Groninger Museum, 2012.0201
Photo by Bart Oomes, No 6 StudiosAn intercontinental phone conversation prompted Iris van Herpen to question the innumerable flows of digital information that surround us like rays at every moment and in every place. In Radiation Invasion, the wearer seems to be surrounded by a complex of wavy rays, flickering patterns, vibrating particles, and reflecting pleats. The collection is about the simultaneously frightening and fascinating presence of radiant energy (particularly that generated by electronics) that constantly surrounds us. Van Herpen represents in this collection how it might look if we could detect and manipulate radiation—if we, like magnets, could attract and repel.


Synesthesia, Dress, February 2010

Lacquer leather, cow leather, gold foil, metal eyelets, busks, and cotton
Groninger Museum, 2012.0202.a–b
Photo by Bart Oomes, No 6 StudiosVan Herpen approaches the body as a malleable, sensitive, and fragile object. With Synesthesia, she enlarges body parts through transparency, movement, and extreme repetition to emphasize refined craftsmanship. Starting from a vision of the future in which clothing might supplement or strengthen sensory perception, van Herpen has designed certain elements—such as hypersensitive, vibrating instruments or extra receptors—that enable the wearer to experience the world in an entirely different way. Using specially treated leather coated on one side with shiny metal foil, she created a striking and bewildering visual effect that makes it difficult for the viewer to recognize exactly what he or she is seeing.


Crystallization, Skirt, Top, July 2010

In collaboration with Daniel Widrig and Materialise
3-D-printed polyamide, goat leather, and transparent lasered acrylic sheets
Groninger Museum, 2012.0207.a–b
Photo by Bart Oomes, No 6 StudiosThe properties of water in its various states—such as its potential for chaos and unbounded nature when in liquid form and the mathematical beauty of the hard crystalline structures that appear when water freezes—are clearly recognizable in Crystallization. These associations also serve as a metaphor for the artistic process, wherein an initial idea crystallized to form a tangible collection. This dress, the design of which recalls the way that limestone deposits harden and form shells, is the first 3-D-printed garment ever sent down the runway. Van Herpen created it in collaboration with architect Daniel Widrig.


Crystallization, Dress, Collar, July 2010

Transparent polyethylene terephthalate, ECCO leather with oil treatment, goat leather, silver chains, and viscose
Groninger Museum, 2012.0206.a–b
Photo by Bart Oomes, No 6 StudiosThe design for the new extension to Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum, which earned the nickname the bathtub, inspired Iris van Herpen’s Crystallization collection. She sought to design a dress that would cascade around the wearer like a splash of water. She initially wanted to 3-D print the dress, but technical limitations made it impossible to achieve the transparency she desired. She ultimately chose to create the work completely by hand, using hot air guns and metal pliers to manipulate a transparent substance. After testing nearly forty different materials, she settled on polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a malleable resin commonly used to make plastic bottles. Using this process, van Herpen painstakingly molded the acrylic into undulating cascades that evoke the movement of water.


Capriole, Ensemble, July 2011

In collaboration with Isaïe Bloch and Materialise
3-D-printed polyamide
Groninger Museum, 2012.0209
Photo by Bart Oomes, No 6 StudiosIris van Herpen made her debut in Paris as a guest member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture with her Capriole collection. Capriole, named for the French word meaning “leap in the air,” presented five strikingly new outfits that evoke the feeling just before and during a free-fall parachute jump.The 3-D-printed “skeleton dress” evokes the moment of free fall when the body feels as though it is growing in all directions. Van Herpen’s skeletal Capriole design resulted from a collaboration with Belgian designer and architect Isaïe Bloch, who specializes in 3-D-printed designs. Van Herpen achieved the intricate, sculptural quality of this dress with selective laser sintering (SLS). This method can be used to create flexible snaps or hinges, which allow a dress to be assembled directly onto a model.


Hybrid Holism, Dress, July 2012

In collaboration with Julia Koerner and Materialise
3-D-printed UV-curable polymer
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, purchase supported by the Friends of Iris, 2015.170
Photo by Bart Oomes, No 6 StudiosFor this design, van Herpen was inspired by an early Dutch illustration of a fractal (a geometric form that can be divided into parts, each of which is a smaller copy of the whole). She collaborated with Austrian architect Julia Koerner to achieve the design’s detailed repetition.Belgian 3-D printing firm Materialise printed the dress using stereolithography. This process constructs the design slice by slice from bottom to top in a vessel of semi-transparent polymer that hardens when struck by a laser. The resulting complex of honey-hued planes seems to grow increasingly intricate as it extends outward from the body.


Voltage, Dress, January 2013

Mirror foil, transparent acrylic sheet, and viscose
Courtesy of the designer
Photo by Bart Oomes, No 6 StudiosIris van Herpen explores the body’s electricity in her Voltage collection. The work of New Zealand experimentalist Carlos Van Camp, who choreographs with extremely high voltage instruments (tesla coils) that interact through the movements of the performer, played an important part in the evolution of this collection. Van Herpen used cutting-edge technologies to create pieces that evoke both beauty and danger. Her designs seek to portray both the unpredictable movement and transformative power of electricity.


Wilderness Embodied, Dress, July 2013

In collaboration with Jólan van der Wiel
Iron filings, polyurethane resin, and cotton
Courtesy of the designer
Photo by Bart Oomes, No 6 StudiosTo create this dress’s crater-like topography, van Herpen worked with Dutch artist Jólan van der Wiel. Inspired by physics and gravity, van der Weil developed a material comprising iron filings mixed into molten plastic. Using magnets that attract the metal filaments, he shapes the material into stalagmite-like forms. Van Herpen sought a softer, more flexible version for a collection of dresses, shoes, and accessories. The pair collaborated to create this rubbery, pearlescent substance that could be applied to fabric in small sections and stretched into forms evocative of a lunar landscape.


Biopiracy, Dress, March 2014

In collaboration with Julia Koerner and Materialise
3-D-printed thermoplastic polyurethane 92A-1 with silicone coating
Collection of Phoenix Art Museum. Gift of Arizona Costume Institute.
Photo by Bart Oomes, No 6 StudiosIn an era when it is now possible to purchase patents on our genes, the boundaries between private and public are growing increasingly porous. Iris van Herpen’s Biopiracy collection explores physical integrity, individuality, and autonomy, fundamentally asking: are we still the sole proprietors of our bodies?Van Herpen worked with architect Julia Koerner to create a flowing, feathery design that dramatically pushed the limits of 3-D-printing technology. The design was created by laser sintering a rubber-like material, called thermoplastic polyurethane 92A-1, recently developed by the 3-D printing company Materialise. The simultaneous flexibility and durability of TPU 92A-1 allowed van Herpen to realize her innovative design, whose soft, sinuous appearance drastically defies the aesthetic conventions of 3-D printing. After it was printed, the form was coated in silicone to provide the dress with a glossy sheen.


Magnetic Motion, Dress, September 2014

In collaboration with Niccolò Casas and 3D Systems
3-D-printed transparent photopolymer and stereolithography resin
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, purchase with funds from the Decorative Arts Acquisition Trust and through prior acquisitions, 2015.82
Photo by Bart Oomes, No 6 StudiosEarly in 2014, Iris van Herpen and Philip Beesley visited CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, to see the Large Hadron Collider, whose magnetic field is 100,000 times more powerful than Earth’s. Van Herpen was fascinated by this interplay of magnetic forces.Italian architect Niccolò Casas was van Herpen’s collaborator to finalize her design for this crystalline dress, whose front and back snap together. The company 3D Systems produced the transparent dress using stereolithography. In this process, a beam of ultraviolet light is focused onto the surface of a vat of liquid polymer. The design is created as the material comes into contact with the light, hardening it layer by layer. Pushing the technology to new limits, the printing company ultimately succeeded in producing a dress whose transparent ribbons of resin recall the shimmering surface of ice.



Iris van Herpen works at the nexus of fashion, design, technology, and science. With a dynamic and path-breaking body of work, she is widely heralded as a pioneering new voice in fashion. Fashion is about quick deadlines, international platforms, and a voracious need for the next new thing. It is a discipline that requires tremendous creative energy to constantly produce and perform. Van Herpen is known for her willingness to experiment—exploring new fabrics created by blending steel with silk or iron filings with resin, incorporating unexpected materials ranging from umbrella tines to magnets, and pushing the boundaries of technologies such as 3-D printing.
Van Herpen has created a body of work that continues to defy expectation, evolving and forging new ideas and inspirations based both in nature and in visions of the contemporary world. The resulting works, defined within the fashion world as couture, are typically collected and shown in museums, viewed more often as fine art than as design-forward wearables. This exhibition documents the evolution of Iris van Herpen’s couture through a selection of her collections from 2008 through 2015 and illustrates the many ways she continues to seek inspiration beyond the world of traditional handwork and craftsmanship.

Iris van Herpen
Iris van Herpen (Dutch, born 1984) produced her first collection in 2007, shortly after graduating from the ArtEZ Institute of the Arts in the Netherlands. Born in the small town of Wamel, she is now based primarily in Amsterdam, away from the Parisian world of haute couture. In 2012 she became a member of the exclusive Chambre Syndicale de Haute Couture, where her designs regularly appear in biannual Paris runway shows. Van Herpen divides her time between the contained world of her studio, her global network of collaborators, and the international stage of fashion.
As van Herpen describes her artistic philosophy, “For me fashion is an expression of art that is very close related to me and to my body. I see it as my expression of identity combined with desire, moods and cultural setting. In all my work I try to make clear that fashion is an artistic expression, showing and wearing art, and not just a functional and devoid of content or commercial tool. With my work I intend to show that fashion can certainly have an added value to the world, that it can be timeless and that its consumption can be less important then its beginning. Wearing clothing creates an exciting and imperative form of self-expression. ‘Form follows function’ is not a slogan with which I concur. On the contrary, I find that forms complement and change the body and thus the emotion. Movement, so essential to and in the body, is just as important in my work. By bringing form, structure and materials together in a new manner, I try to suggest and realize optimal tension and movement.”