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Dutch designer 'sculpts' clothing

Published:Friday | November 13, 2015 | 12:36 PM
Designer Iris van Herpen talks to visitors at the High Museum’s new exhibit, ‘Iris van Herpen: Transforming Fashion’, Thursday, Nov 5, 2015, in Atlanta. The exhibit, running through May 15, shows the evolution of van Herpen’s design from collections created from 2008 through 2015. Van Herpen is known for creating high-tech fabrics and fashions that combine materials like steel and silk with everyday objects like magnets and umbrella parts.
Dresses from the Refinery Smoke collection.
Dresses from the Voltage collection by designer Iris van Herpen sit on display at the High Museum’s new exhibit.


Drawing inspiration from sources including art, architecture, the movement of the human body and science, Iris van Herpen creates cutting-edge fashion using a combination of traditional craftsmanship and innovative technology.

And though van Herpen's name may not be well known to the average fashion-loving consumer, fashion-forward singers like Lady Gaga, Bjork and BeyoncÈ have all worn her creations.

'Iris van Herpen: Transforming Fashion', a new exhibition opening Saturday at Atlanta's High Museum of Art (the High), features 45 pieces pulled from 15 of the Dutch artist's collections designed between 2008 and this year. Organised chronologically, it gives visitors insight into the evolution of the young designer's career.

Many of the couture pieces look like costumes from a futuristic science fiction movie, with dramatic flourishes created from unexpected materials and contrasting textures.

The pieces are displayed on custom mannequins in such a way that visitors can walk around and see them from every angle because they are as much sculpture as clothing, said High curator of decorative arts and design Sarah Schleuning.

Van Herpen, 31, said people sometimes assume she is inspired by technology, but that is not the case. Rather, she sees technology as a tool to help her achieve the physical representation of ideas in her head, she said.

"Often my inspiration doesn't come from something visual," she said. "Often I'm inspired by things that are invisible to us, like magnetic motion or electricity."

Her creative process often includes collaborations with other artists, designers, architects and scientists. Once she has an idea in her head, she experiments to see whether it can best be executed by hand or using more high-tech methods, like 3-D printing.

One of the most remarkable pieces in the exhibition, which the High recently acquired, is from van Herpen's spring 2015 collection, Magnetic Motion. It looks like a delicately carved ice sculpture. The structures are so fine and delicate that the technicians at the company that printed it for her initially didn't think it would be possible to create with a 3-D printer using the transparent resin she wanted.

The result is a stunning short strapless dress that hinges open along one side and snaps on to the model. Like many of the other pieces in the exhibition, it's hard to imagine how it looks on a human body. Luckily, a video in a side gallery showcases six of her runway shows so visitors can see the outfits on models and watch the extraordinary way they move.

Made from materials that include woven metal gauze, the metal ribs of children's umbrellas, leather, laser-cut acrylic, foil, stones, cotton and more, the dresses scream to be touched, and the High is happy to oblige.

There are samples of six materials from outfits in the exhibition, including the ice dress and water dress, both of which are made from hard, unforgiving plastic, as well as a rubber material that feels like the skin of a Halloween mask, a fine wire mesh that is surprisingly flexible and a mat of fastened-together umbrella ribs.

The show debuts Saturday at the High, where it ends May 15, and then will travel to the Grand Rapids Art Museum in Michigan (fall 2016), the Dallas Museum of Art in Texas (spring 2017), the Cincinnati Museum of Art in Ohio (fall 2017) and the Phoenix Art Museum in Arizona (spring 2018).