The Ma­gi­cian

Pi­o­neer­ing de­signer Iris van Her­pen in­sists her work is more fem­i­nine than fu­tur­is­tic.

Fashion (Canada) - - The Market | People - By Is­abel B. Slone


bor­der of imag­i­na­tion. The 34-year-old Dutch de­signer draws in­spi­ra­tion from sub­jects as es­o­teric and var­ied as biopiracy and synes­the­sia and grav­i­tates to­ward tech­nol­ogy on the van­guard of sci­en­tific in­no­va­tion to in­form her cre­ations. And yet be­cause her work is so for­ward­think­ing, it is of­ten mis­un­der­stood. We spoke with van Her­pen while she was vis­it­ing Toronto for the open­ing of her ca­reer-ret­ro­spec­tive ex­hi­bi­tion, Iris van Her­pen: Trans­form­ing Fash­ion, at the Royal On­tario Mu­seum. Here, van Her­pen clears up some of the mis­con­cep­tions sur­round­ing her work and draws us deeper into her world, where sci­en­tific dis­cov­ery min­gles with magic. What kind of story have you been telling over the course of your ca­reer? “I guess it is many small sto­ries. I’m look­ing for new ways of see­ing fem­i­nin­ity and a con­tin­u­ous di­a­logue be­tween crafts­man­ship and tech­nol­ogy. It’s re­ally the story of where fash­ion can go, how things can change and how we can grow and move for­ward. I think it is also about go­ing to­ward a more ab­stract idea of move­ment, to­ward a new ma­te­ri­al­ity.” What is this new view of fem­i­nin­ity you are try­ing to imag­ine? “As a de­signer, I look at both the fu­ture and the his­tory of fash­ion, and women have gone through many stages. But in fash­ion, things are of­ten re­peated, and the way we look at women is one of them. I think it is a sub­ject that has much more free­dom than what we pro­ject on it. For me, it’s re­ally im­por­tant to break those laws and go be­yond that.” One of the most com­mon words peo­ple use to de­scribe your work is “oth­er­worldly.” Do you iden­tify with that char­ac­ter­i­za­tion? “Not re­ally. I am look­ing for a dif­fer­ent view of fem­i­nin­ity and what it means to be a wo­man. What it means to dress in some­thing beau­ti­ful, when some­thing is made for you. I think that is a very spe­cial form of art and it’s why fash­ion is so pow­er­ful. When peo­ple see some­thing they haven’t seen be­fore, they con­nect it to the fu­ture. I think that’s why my work is of­ten seen as vi­sion­ary or fu­tur­is­tic. But every­thing I make is pos­si­ble to­day. I ref­er­ence my work much more to a here and now than to a fu­ture.” Peo­ple of­ten dis­cuss your work in terms of its re­la­tion to tech­nol­ogy. Can you elab­o­rate on why craft is such an im­por­tant el­e­ment in your de­signs? “Craft is re­ally the base of every­thing I do. It has al­ways been the base of fash­ion. There is beauty to be found in the way hands can shape some­thing, be­cause you re­ally see the per­son who made the gar­ment in the ac­tual piece it­self. We have such pow­er­ful tools. Hands are re­ally in­cred­i­ble in what they can do. Strangely enough, crafts­man­ship is re­ally lim­ited in peo­ple’s minds in »

terms of what it is. When you look at my de­signs, a lot of the pieces that look very fu­tur­is­tic or com­pletely ma­chine-made are ac­tu­ally made by hand. It just shows how much more we can do with crafts­man­ship than what we al­ready know. I re­ally see a fu­ture in crafts­man­ship com­bined with the knowl­edge we have from tech­nol­ogy. The two can re­ally help each other. It’s not that we need to evolve one of them; they are re­ally pow­er­ful to­gether, I think.” What drives you to keep ex­per­i­ment­ing in your work? “I think of all the things that will be pos­si­ble in our near fu­ture that are not pos­si­ble to­day; they are just wait­ing to be dis­cov­ered. It’s a very mag­i­cal mo­ment when you put so much time and en­ergy into some­thing and you see it evolve and dis­cover some­thing you couldn’t have even imag­ined. It’s al­most like meditation. It’s a feel­ing I’m look­ing for over and over.” What tech­nol­ogy that doesn’t ex­ist yet would you like to see dis­cov­ered?

“Ma­te­ri­als that make cer­tain [body] parts in­vis­i­ble or break the light so you can see a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive on the body part that is be­hind it. There are things pos­si­ble like it, but not re­ally. The way I have it in my mind, it still needs to evolve.” What ap­peals to you about push­ing the bound­aries of tech­nol­ogy? “It’s like the old al­chemists find­ing a way to trans­form things to re­ally have con­trol over a ma­te­rial. I think it re­lates to me as a dancer in my younger years. The trans­for­ma­tion of the body is so pow­er­ful. I need to trans­form. I need both chaos and con­trol in the life around me. So, while peo­ple are look­ing at [my work], I want them to have their own ex­pe­ri­ence with it. When I look at my own work, though, it’s like my own di­ary. I dis­cover my­self through mak­ing my own work, not the other way around. So, in the end, it’s re­ally an ex­plo­ration of who I am and what my fu­ture will be.”

Iris van Her­pen: Trans­form­ing Fash­ion is on dis­play at the Royal On­tario Mu­seum un­til Oc­to­ber 8, 2018.

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