Monday 25 July 2022

Iris van Herpen: Mythology and the Metaverse

The Meta Morphism dress with lasercut translucent silk and Mylar leaves, symbolizing the myth of Daphne turning into a laurel tree, a highlight of the AW22-23 show. Main picture and cover by Elli Ioannou for DAM in Paris.

The artistic ingenuity of fashion designer Iris van Herpen has hewn a new path for haute couture. Drawing on dance, choreography, science, architecture, music and new technology, her sublime designs are not only otherworldly but exquisitely crafted. This season she explores the metaverse. Story by Jeanne-Marie Cilento. Reporting by Ambrogio de Lauro. Photography by Elli Ioannou

Sparkling crystals hang from the tips
of the silken leaves creating 
a glimmering aura 
IRIS van Herpen's ensorcelling designs are at the vanguard of haute couture, refashioning the future. Her singular vision will be showcased at a major new exhibition, to be held in Paris at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, next year. Many of her pieces are already in museum collections. 

The Dutch designer's preternatural creations have been worn by Cate Blanchett and Beyoncé to Björk and Lady Gaga and were highlights at this year's Met Gala in New York. In Paris, van Herpen celebrated 15 years since she first launched her eponymous fashion house in 2007. This season, the designer explores our connection to technology and how it effects our sense of self.

Called Meta Morphism, the Autumn/Winter 2022-23 collection was presented in Paris at the Élysée Montmartre, a famous music venue where David Bowie and Patti Smith have performed. 

Van Herpen examines how we will change and adapt with the rise of the metaverse. Although a futurist, she looked back twelve centuries and drew her inspiration for her latest designs from Ovid's Metamorphoses. Transformation is the overall motif running through the ancient work's myriad myths and history of the world.

The Roman poet wrote the epic Latin narrative poem in the 8th century and the theme of metamorphosis  ~ van Herpen's starting point ~ is introduced at the beginning: "In nova fert animus mutatas dicere formas/corpora ("I intend to speak of forms changed into new entities").

Iris van Herpen's new major exhibition will be held in Paris at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs 

Casey Curran's sculpture of Daphne
on the runway with Apollo as 
fluttering golden leaves
Van Herpen also based this latest collection's themes on the myths and stories of Narcissus, Arachne and Daphne and Apollo. She collaborated with sculptor Casey Curran to create a dynamic statue of Daphne, that drew all eyes at the heart of the runway at the Élysée Montmartre. 

The sculpture's gilded skeleton sprouts abstract white blooms like living flora, representing the laurel tree. The work floated at the centre of the space like a talisman. The quivering golden leaves above the figure were designed to suggest Apollo's unrequited passion for her.

Walking around this potent artwork, the models teetered on winged, 3D printed heels wearing  sinuously surreal designs made with an entrancing combination of new technology and superlative hand-crafted expertise. 

Many of the lacy, corporeal details are 3D printed and then meticulously hand-sewn together, maintaining the artisan tradition of haute couture yet upending staid preconceptions of form and material. 

Key to van Herpen's work is sustainability which she has made an integral part of the design and production process of her collections. Since she founded her label, she has developed new techniques and experimented with materials not usually associated with couture. 

She wants to not only push the boundaries of what is considered haute couture but leap beyond them. The designer sees haute couture as a laboratory for experimentation, influencing and inspiring ready-to-wear. Every season is an opportunity to express, in material and digital form, new ideas. 

The designer sees haute couture as a fashion laboratory for innovation and experimentation 

The Singularity jumpsuit with
3D printed adornments made
from leftover cocoa bean shells
This season, using 3D printing and working with Dutch designers Eric Klarenbeek and Maartje Dros, Van Herpen  developed the Singularity jumpsuit (see at left). Figure- hugging in rich, warm ochre hues, the design was brought to fruition by using left-over cocoa bean shells.

The raw cocoa beans shells are processed into granules and then mixed with glucose. This stabilized substance is then spun into a filament, forming an organic biopolymer that can be 3D printed, making the production of the material entirely sustainable. 

As a finishing touch, the embellishments are electroplated with copper. The jumpsuit is interwoven with vegetative tendrils that wreath Cindy Bruna's body encased in upcycled organza.

Another innovative material used by Iris van Herpen in this collection is a biodegradable fabric made from a type of banana called Abaca, originating from the Philippines. The fabric is made of 40% raw silk combined with 60% fibre from the banana plant’s stems. 

The Abaca and silk are woven into a shiny material that shimmers with the shine of banana leaves. The designer also worked with Solaris, using recycled Mylar as the base for intricate embroidery and laser cuts. The fine, translucent face jewellery that the models wore for the Paris show was created with artists Staskausas and Lance Victor Moore.

The pellucid fabrics of the collection have a gossamer texture and are in a subtle palette of creams and beiges, giving the models an ethereal, otherworldly grace. Contrasting with these incorporeal figures were those dressed in darker hues of blue and amethyst with a dash of copper and silver to enliven the glistening embellishments.   

The sinuously surreal designs are made with an entrancing combination of new technology and superlative, hand-crafted expertise 

The Omnipresent dress with it's
filmy, spider-web like lace
bounded by laser-cut 
black framework 
The myth of the master weaver Arachne was the inspiration for the delicate laces forming embroidered webs like the Omnipresent dress (at right). The halo-like tendrils around the face were designed to suggest threads that could be woven. The facemask made of fine, lasercut steel forms a frame for the lace. Black lines encase the translucent filmy embroidery like stained glass.

The tragic tale of Narcissus, who falls in love with his own reflection, was the impetus that spurred the designer to create luminous surfaces that were layered and reflective. The Narcissus coat (see below) worn by Winnie Harlow is also embroidered with faces that seem to move and then disappear. 

The myth of Daphne and Apollo engendered the design of the finale look with Daphne's metamorphosis into a laurel tree. Van Herpen interprets the story as a metaphor for our immersion in virtual worlds where we merge with the metaverse. 

She asks questions about what this could look like: "How do we envisage our digital counterparts? Who do we dream of becoming in these digital realms?" Well the designer has given us the answer, with this collection, to the most important question: "What will we wear?"  

Scroll down to see highlights from the AW22 Haute Couture Collection in Paris

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