Transcendent Iris Van Herpen Design Exhibition Comes To Phoenix Art Museum

By Casey Kuhn
Published: Friday, February 23, 2018 - 3:38pm
Updated: Monday, April 27, 2020 - 12:24pm

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(Photo by Casey Kuhn - KJZZ)
Visitors look at the Iris van Herpen exhibit at the Phoenix Art Museum.

3-D printing is not just in the science lab, it’s in the art museum. The Phoenix Art Museum, in fact. Modern-day designer Iris van Herpen and her elaborate and otherworldly clothes have come to the Valley. We spoke with the Dutch fashion creator, and have a preview of the exhibit opening to the public Saturday.

At a preview of the exhibit, local designers and influencers took a close look at material van Herpen has manipulated into something that wobbles and moves and feels like something it isn’t.

"It feels like rubber," said local designer Leonor Aispuro. "Wow."

Aispuro ran her hands over a material made of resin and iron filings, then molded with magnets. One of half-a-dozen fabric-like pieces viewers can touch, including 3-D printed resin that feels like jelly shoes and umbrella spokes made into a bustier.

It’s a good thing there’s a part of the exhibit you can touch, because each of the 30-plus dresses has so much texture you immediately want to run your hands through it.

And that innovation and creativity is what inspires designers like Aispuro.

“It’s really inspiring to see someone that’s my age be designing at this level and showing in a museum, that’s what I would love to do," she said. "This is definitely mind-blowing and inspiring all at once.”

(Photo by Casey Kuhn - KJZZ)
A closeup of one of the van Herpen dresses.

There’s a piece where thousands of individual 3-D printed pieces that look like feathers cover a mini-dress silhouette with a skin-like, shiny peach coating on them. Each piece was sewn in by hand.

There’s a dress with a giant collar shaped like a figure 8 around the body covered in what looks like big black bubble wrap.

And finally there’s a huge ballgown made of metal screen, like you might find in a porch door, except 10 times lighter. It’s rusted dark red, and reminiscent of a steel storm cloud.

“Literally each piece in the exhibition is really like a piece that is close to me and means a lot to me,” said Dutch designer Iris van Herpen. The exhibit showcases pieces spanning all her collections over the years.

Van Herpen is soft-spoken but has dressed some of the world’s biggest celebrities like Bjork, Beyonce and Lady Gaga.

And she thinks this North American tour exposes her high-fashion pieces to a crowd that may never go to a fashion show in their life.

“The way you can see the pieces here, so close up and so personal ... it’s something you miss out on a fashion show.”
— Iris van Herpen

“It really attracts a lot of variety in people that come to see it. It’s a lot of men and female from all different ages and all different cultures," van Herpen said. "I heard that feedback especially from the U.S. tour, which I really liked, that it really connects to different layers of society.”

You don’t have to understand fashion to be in awe of van Herpen’s creations. Van Herpen and her assistants meticulously sewed, fused and shaped the dresses by hand for months before showing the final piece in a fashion collection.

And it’s easy to see that up-close detail in the Phoenix Art Museum.

"The way you can see the pieces here, so close up and so personal, I think it’s really special," she said. "And it’s something you miss out on a fashion show.”

For those who’d rather be in a science museum, there’s still something to take away from the exhibit. Van Herpen is fascinated by particle physics research — she's visited CERN and the Large Hadron Collider multiple times — and uses 3-D modeling to create her intricate designs.

When asked what material she’d love to create something with, her answer:

“Light," she said. "Light is a big part of my work, the way it works or relates to the pieces. But light itself I think is a very beautiful material. Light in it's purest form.”

(Photo by Casey Kuhn - KJZZ)
Iris van Herpen, second from the left, and two curators who put the exhibit together.

Van Herpen avoids talking politics, preferring to explain her inspirations. But when asked about the #MeToo movement’s effect on the fashion industry, she thinks progress is being made.

“But it’s slow. Progress is slow," van Herpen said. "Sometimes I’m sad that we live in this time and things are still so old-school in a way.”

The 33-year-old showed her latest couture collection in January at the Mineralogy and Geology Gallery in Paris to critical acclaim.

When asked whether she would take back to the Netherlands some inspiration by the cactus and red rock here in Arizona, she pauses and thinks.

“I think so but you never know beforehand. It’s really beautiful what I’ve seen so far and I’m going to Sedona after this to see the rocks and the nature there," van Herpen said. "I can imagine it will come back in some sort of shape and form.”

A shape and form only van Herpen can envision and create with her transcendent imagination.

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The Iris van Herpen exhibit opens to the public at the Phoenix Art Museum on Feb. 24 and runs through May.

(Photo by Casey Kuhn - KJZZ)
Van Herpen explains to visitors how the dresses were made.

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