Iris van Herpen by Solve Sundsbo


‘I realised I had ideas I couldn’t produce by hand.’

Iris van Herpen on 10 years of pushing the boundaries of fashion and technology.

Interview by Ariane Koek
Film by Sølve Sundsbø
Creative direction by Jerry Stafford


Since launching her label in 2007, Iris van Herpen has earned a reputation as an avant-garde technologist, pushing the boundaries of form and couture technique. Experimenting with previously unexplored methods, van Herpen has challenged the conventions of haute couture, marrying its time-honoured traditions – the meticulous hand-work of the petites mains – with modern machinery, such as 3-D printing.

Admitted as a guest member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture in 2011, van Herpen has since presented a number of collections made in collaborations with scientists, artists and architects. She has played on perspective with 3-D printed paillettes made with abstract artist Esther Stocker; shown injection-moulded silicone that ripples across the skin to a soundtrack played by underwater musicians; and used iron filings manipulated by a magnetic field for a collection inspired by a visit to CERN, or the European Organization for Nuclear Research.

It was there in 2014 that van Herpen first met Ariane Koek. An expert in arts, science and technology, Koek founded the laboratory’s Collide Artist Residency Awards to make seemingly impossible links between the arts and scientific practice. Koek and CERN’s work continues to inspire van Herpen’s designs, both technically and aesthetically. Alongside pieces constructed using magnetic processes, quantum foam – the idea that the fabric of the universe is a foam-like mass of time- space bubbles – inspired a collection made of thousands of hand-blown glass bubbles that form a foam-like exoskeleton around the wearer’s body.

This is van Herpen’s sui generis approach to integrating science and technology in her work, unlike anything previously presented in a haute-couture context. The seemingly immiscible elements of printing, metalwork, synthetic fabrics, and nature references come together with a poetry that does little to give away the complexity of her research and construction process. It is why her work has been collected by cultural institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, as well as academic institutions such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

System brought together Ariane Koek and Iris van Herpen to discuss the designer’s idiosyncratic, multi-disciplinary approach. Photographer Sølve Sundsbø also photographed the best of her 10 years of haute couture, as selected by van Herpen. See the feature in full in System issue No. 10. Click to buy.