Neither tradition nor a global health crisis can halt progress; we see that in the speedy development of COVID vaccines. On the couture front, Iris van Herpen is once again exploding and expanding what the métier can be with her spring collection.
Couture is exclusive because it is unique. It’s not just that designs are fit to a specific customer, it’s that they are made of the finest materials by hand, ensuring that no two variants will ever be alike. With the introduction of one-off pieces made using 3D printing, Van Herpen showed that one-of-a-kind designs can also be achieved using technology.
For spring, the Dutch couturier collaborated with Parley for the Oceans to include recycled plastics in sustainable materials that are, in her view, are of couture quality for the first time ever. “Of course [couture] clients expect the highest quality out there, so you don’t want to go sustainable if you lower the quality,” she said on a Zoom call. “We are now at a moment where the quality [between an organic silk and a recycled polyester] is completely equal…. Now it’s really a matter of decision, it’s not a matter of choosing a quality. Basically, there’s not a lot of reason not to use sustainable materials anymore, other than changing your mindset.”
Entangled Life, a book by Merlin Sheldrake about how fungi sustain life on Earth, inspired Van Herpen’s collection on many levels. Her use of pleating can be related back to the gills of mushrooms. Mycelium, the lace-like branching part of fungus, influenced both silhouettes and embellishments. Van Herpen even worked with an artist who grew lace patterns from wood.
Mycelium, the designer explains, forms a “wood wide web,” or underground system of communication. It’s an idea that “especially touched me,” said Van Herpen, “because I think the last year has been, for me, and I guess all of us, [one] of isolation and separation. And of course it’s really beautiful to look at nature and how nature connects in a very similar way [to] how we communicate.” And while couture may be the most exclusive expression of fashion, it is also the most intimate. One of the reasons “I love couture so much,” the designer says, is, “because it’s a very personal approach towards fashion. I have direct relationships and contacts with the people I create for, and I think that is such a rare value these days, where everything is so separated.”
Van Herpen’s calm sense of rootedness is palpable despite the distortions and delays of Zoom. Connection is her grail and she’s put a lot of effort into aligning fashion with science, and nature with technology. The results are always remarkable, but this collection marks a turning point. Van Herpen has sometimes been cast as fashion’s “dame ex machina” or science whisperer. Spring’s collection reveals another aspect of her prodigious talent. These pieces are technical marvels that feel like they are more in sync with the models’ bodies. Asked about this development, Van Herpen suggests it’s related to her own development as a woman. “I started my label when I was 22. I was in a different state [than] where I am now,” she says. “I think I’m also growing as a person myself, and that relationship between the garment and the woman who is wearing it is becoming more and more important.”
This article was originally published on Vogue.com