When I saw Public School’s 2016 spring/summer collection, my first thoughts pertained to the colors, style and material of each of the pieces. Monochrome colors — masculine designs juxtaposed against flouncy silhouettes. To sum up Public School’s general aesthetic: street wear with a luxurious flair.
Much like what I noticed with Public School, when I see a collection or even a piece from a collection, my thought process, boiled down is: idea and material equals clothes. The piece, depending on what kind of look the designer is trying to achieve, is made from some kind of fabric, be it cotton or chiffon. In this respect, fashion seems straightforward. However, there is a new designer who is altering what haute couture is and, more specifically, what it’s made out of.
Iris van Herpen, a Dutch fashion designer, produces haute couture and ready-to-wear pieces that mix technology with craft. “I often play with these stereotypes that people have in mind about craftsmanship and technology,” van Herpen told Vogue. Her works include adornments made of the ribs of children’s umbrellas and a dress created by a hot glue gun with a design that looks like water drops captured mid-splash. Her repertoire is composed of materials such as iron-filled polyurethane resin that can be manipulated by magnets, plastics used in 3-D printing and even Swarovski crystals.
These items, along with 45 other pieces, have come to Atlanta for the viewing pleasure of fashion and science lovers alike. Van Herpen’s haute couture pieces are currently displayed in her new exhibition “Iris van Herpen: Transforming Fashion” in the High Museum of Art. The exhibition opened up on Nov. 7 and consists of three pieces from each of her 15 Haute Couture collections.
Ironically, part of what makes her art pieces so cutting edge is in their presentation. Her unique and futuristic styling approach is best emphasized by presenting it in an old-school manner: museum exhibits. “In my work I experiment a lot with different disciplines and materials and techniques and people can really understand in the setting of a museum, because they can go up close and they can see how the pieces are being made. It’s very different than seeing it on a runway or in a photo.”
Public School’s clothes are things that can be appreciated from afar. If anything, you are able to appreciate them more because you are seeing it from a distance on a runway or, in my case, through photographs. Distance enhances the silhouettes and cuts. On the contrary, van Herpen’s clothes were not made for the purpose of them being modeled down the runway. Rather, they were made to simulate art pieces such as paintings and sculptures — things one must get up close and personal to see the intricacies that make up a dress or accessory.
To further break down the complexities of her pieces, van Herpen included another gallery at the end of the exhibit containing samples of fabric that were used in the pieces displayed. By doing this, Van Herpen explained that when “you go back to the dress, it looks different because you understand the material better because it’s a completely different thing.”
Van Herpen’s approach to fashion marries new and old, tradition with the ultramodern. Fittingly, in May 2016, the Metropolitan Museum of Art will feature some of her pieces in its exhibit “Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology.” These exhibits showcase not only van Herpen’s creative ingenuity, but also another emerging facet of the fashion realm that the industry and world have yet to see.