Hybrid Show

In the midst of assembling 16 years’ worth of boundary-pushing Couture for her Musée des Arts Décoratifs retrospective, Sculpting the Senses, Iris van Herpen realized there was another creative ambition she had yet to  fulfill. “I could see the interdisciplinary approach throughout my whole body of work, but I was missing something  that had always been a part of me: my love of sculpture and painting,” says van Herpen, who although known for  her classical dance background, grew up simultaneously entrenched in visual art. 

On June 24 during Paris Haute Couture Week, van Herpen presents her signature spellbinding Couture  alongside her first aerial sculptures, ushering in a new era of visual artistry for the maison. “For a long time I’ve been  working on expanding people’s perception of how fashion and art can be symbiotic. This is the natural next step  for me to really show what I mean,’ she says, likening her preferred process of moulage, or draping directly on the  mannequin, to sculpting. “Even though we call one practice ‘Haute Couture’ and the other ‘art,’ to me, it’s one  universe.”

Conceived as two pairs, the four large-scale artworks feature an array of innovative techniques on tulle surfaces,  suspended and stretched via steel tubes. Tulle, a favored material synonymous with classical ballet costumes, also  serves as the basis for most of van Herpen’s Couture looks.

Alongside the sculptures, performers are presented as living artworks, which are elevated and partially sculpted  into their own canvases to reflect mankind’s perceived superiority. In confronting the audience with their gaze, van  Herpen encourages a process of self-realization, in which individuals expand their understanding of the self to  include their relationships with other living species. “At my home, I don’t consider the garden as being mine, but  rather it’s a space that I share with all other life forms. The wilder, the better,” says van Herpen, who particularly is  fascinated by observing the insects and imagining their “umwelts,” a term coined by German biologist Jakob von  Uexküll to describe an organism’s unique sensory experience. 

Whether through gravity-defying silhouettes or ethereal draping that catches the air, van Herpen’s Couture-looks, too,  seem to have a life of their own. While 3D-printing and the folding of silks are in the maison’s DNA, new techniques  are showcased. The Umwelt and Aeromorphosis gowns, for example, feature a subtle gradient of pearls echoing  the sculptures’ cyclonic compositions, while the transparent Ataraxy gown, sculpted with a heat gun, emulates the  artworks’ floating quality. Like Unfolding Time and Ancient Ancestors, the white Ecosophy gown fuses organza with  intricate 3D-printing that seamlessly transitions into lace. Van Herpen honors Japanese craftsmanship, precision,  and spirituality of daily life with the Sensorium dress, composed of obi fabric from the couturier’s kimono collection.

By presenting the Couture looks and sculptures concurrently as artworks, as opposed to the typical frenetic runway,  van Herpen suggests that the audience choose their own paths and spend more time appreciating the artistry and  craftsmanship. “These looks took many months to make, so the importance of slowing down is not only present in  the work itself but also in how people perceive them,” she says.

Van Herpen describes the overarching feeling that characterizes this presentation and the maison’s creative  evolution as “hybrid.” Whether Couture, art, or architecture, her interdisciplinary approach remains the same, and  with this hybrid collection, it has been fully embraced.