Iris Van Herpen. Sculpting The Senses
Musée Des Arts Décoratifs, Paris
November 29, 2023 – April 28, 2024
The exhibition Iris van Herpen: Sculpting the Senses pays tribute to one of the most forward-thinking fashion designers. A pioneer in the use of new technologies in her field, Iris van Herpen defies conventional clothing norms while embracing both traditional couture craftsmanship and innovative techniques. Spanning from the micro to the macro, the exhibition challenges the body’s position in space, its connection to attire and the surrounding environment, and its future in a swiftly evolving world.
Featuring a selection of over one hundred haute couture pieces crafted by Iris van Herpen, the exhibition engages in dialogue with contemporary artworks by artists such as Philip Beesley, Collectif Mé, Wim Delvoye, Kate MccGwire, Damien Jalet, Kohei Nawa, Casey Curran, Rogan Brown, Jacques Rougerie, as well as design pieces by Neri Oxman, Ren Ri, Ferruccio Laviani, and Tomáš Libertíny. Born in 1984, Iris van Herpen grew up in the village of Wamel (Netherlands) in harmony with nature and the living world, which are, along with the classical dance she practised intensively from an early age, the founding elements of her relationship with the body and clothing. After a formative period with Alexander McQueen and Claudy Jongstra, she founded the Maison Iris van Herpen in Amsterdam in 2007, combining the subtleties of craftsmanship with the pioneering spirit of innovation, decompartmentalising and opening up her practice to a host of other disciplines, resulting in a sensorial design that captures the intricacy and diversity of a natural world.
Iris van Herpen’s commitment to slow fashion and thoughtfully allows her multidisciplinary to transcend boundaries, inspiring a reimagining of our relationship with fashion and extending the realm of imagination. Celebrating her unique approach, this retrospective, organized around nine themes, identifies the essence of her work, merging fashion, contemporary art, design, and science. The theme of water and the origins of life, omnipresent in the designer’s work, opens the exhibition. Her latest collection, entitled Carte Blanche, showcased in this space, dialogues with David Spriggs’ work Origins, literally inviting the visitor to immerse themselves in the designer’s aquatic universe. Water is also touched on in terms of the scale of the immensity of the ocean with the wave realized by the Collectif Mé. A special space reveals the natural environments invisible to the naked eye already unveiled in the 19th century in the illustrations of Ernst Haeckel or in the remarkable glass models by Léopold and Rudolf Blaschka. Works by Ren Ri and Tomáš Libertíny, made by bees, contrast with the fragility Rogan Brown’s paper works.
The theme of the skeleton is inaugurated by the Skeleton dress echoing the hybrid skeleton of a work by Japanese artist Heishiro Ishino. The place of the body is also evoked at the heart of organic and architectural networks, represented using a dress, a metaphor for a Gothic cathedral, but also by Ferruccio Laviani’s Gothic cabinet, and a documentary by Yann Arthus- Bertrand and Michael Pitiot entitled Terra, committed to the defence of life and the interconnections between ecosystems. Next, visitors are invited to leave the physical dimension of their body to explore the sensory world and through photographs by Tim Walker, a sculpture by Matthew Harrison. Finally, the shadows of mythology around the theme of the medusa created by Phillip Beesley enter into a dialogue with works by Kate MccGwire, EcoLogicStudio and a piece of Samurai armour. In the next section dedicated to new nature, the installation Living Shadows by Beesley comes to life as a derivative of physical dress and infiltrate its surroundings. An installation by Casey Curran offers a reflection on the place and the physical and spiritual future of human beings.
The exhibition ends with a presentation of Iris van Herpen’s works as if projected in the immensity of the cosmos. Her dresses dance across the sky, with bodies floating through space and time. The photographic works of artist Kim Keever, as well as images of nebulae, encourage visitors to experience the world in a more holistic fashion. Three spaces bring the exhibition to a close: an evocation of Iris van Herpen’s studio, in which visitors are immersed in the atelier process through hundreds of material samples, a cabinet of curiosities presenting her accessories (shoes, masks, and hairstyling items), alongside elements from the natural sciences and videos, and a room celebrating the living and moving body through videos of the designer’s catwalk shows. The exhibition is accompanied by a sound composition created by Salvador Breed, which challenges the senses and further immerses the visitor in this journey around the body and the themes close to the designer. Much more than an exhibition devoted to Haute Couture, Iris van Herpen: Sculpting the Senses takes visitors on an immersive journey through this singular and hybrid universe, punctuated by the designer’s research and experiments.