Currently reading : Iron Maiden

Iron Maiden

29 July 2009

Author : maxime-buechi

by Ben PERDUE

Iris van Herpen twists leather and metal into a beautiful state of submission. Holed up in Arnhem where she graduated from the ArtEZ Academy of Art and Design in 2006, the 24-yr-old womenswear designer is fast becoming an Amsterdam Fashion Week highlight. Her acclaimed collections have a multi-dimensional depth that combines architectural severity with ethereal movement. Emphasis she places on painstakingly handcrafted details and sharply sculpted silhouettes further enhancing her ultra-modern aesthetic. “A photographer told me not so long ago that seeing my catwalk shows opened his mind to a new way of looking at things,” say van Herpen. “He had never seen anything else he could compare them to.”

The 3D structures that van Herpen constructs around the female form are reliant upon the versatile qualities of the unexpected materials she embraces. Tough textiles like the wire gauze, copper hair and leather strapping that feature heavily in her work. “I fell in love with leather the first time I used it,” she says. “It has more power and personality than any fabric. It’s timeless but it can be misrepresented in the fashion industry – restricted to being either sexy or tough. Leather can be feminine without being linked to sex. Metal is a challenge to work with but perfect for creating structure and adding some industrial edge.”

Showpieces like the heavily studded biker jacket-inspired mini-dress for autumn/winter 2009/10, with its armour-like conical shoulders, elegantly harness the hefty impact of leather and hardware. This deceptive balance of robustness and organic design resonates through the collection. Decorative details like flowing ruffles and delicate fringing are rethought using leather and chains instead of lace and silk, forcing the viewer to question the relationship between hard and soft. Cocooning leather-bound bodysuits and dramatic hooded dresses sound heavy and cumbersome on paper but emerge lightweight and airy on the catwalk. Fitting tribute to the laborious handwork and expert craftsmanship poured into every couture-like creation. “I never count the hours, days and weeks that go into each one,’ says van Herpen. “Some took more than a month to make with four people working on them at the same time.”

Whether her models are encased in futurist hand-woven suits and exoskeleton-like bodices, or industrial halter-neck cocktail dresses, a spiritual lightness of movement remains constant. Fittingly the body-con leather binding, sophisticated strapping and intricate lacing that dominated the latest collection were influenced by ancient preparations for the afterlife. “I was inspired by the mummification techniques of the Egyptians and their concept of creating a new reality through art,” says van Herpen. “They considered the reality created for their deaths as an actual reality. Their daily life was just an illusion. It’s an interesting way of approaching life. We all have our own idea of what reality is. We created it so we can play with it and disturb it. The Egyptians did that by creating a reality for the dead. I do that by creating a reality in my collections, so I used some elements of mummification. I was amazed by the handwork, detail and craftsmanship that went into it. It was the ultimate ‘ugly to beautiful’ extreme makeover.”

The latest collection is brazenly leather-heavy but any parallels with fetish subculture are purely in the eyes of the beholder. Just as her preoccupation with enhancing the female form has nothing to do with sex appeal. “If I make something out of black leather with metal details people will automatically associate it with sex. No matter how organic, free-formed or romantic the design is,” says van Herpen. “Some see fetish and some see romance. But what people see says more about themselves than it does about my work.”

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