At 32, experimental fashion designer Iris van Herpen has earned her place on the cutting edge of haute couture. Her futuristic work, which springs from the confluence of the body, industrial machinery and technology, has inspired the likes of Lady Gaga, Beyoncé and Björk. Now, a major touring exhibition marking a decade since the Dutch artist’s debut in 2007 will likely inspire many more visionaries.
On view at the Dallas Museum of Art through Aug. 20, Iris van Herpen: Transforming Fashion features 45 outfits from 15 of the artist’s collections (2008-15) and includes some of the world's first 3-D printed fashion designs. The DMA is the fourth of seven venues to house the exhibition, an honor made even more impressive by the fact that this is only the museum’s second foray into contemporary fashion design; the first was The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk in 2011.
“Historically, Dallas has been a center of design, of creation, and also a center of fashion and taste,” said Agustin Arteaga, the museum’s Eugene McDermott director, during a media preview of the exhibition Thursday, with van Herpen in attendance. Arteaga also welcomed the organizing curators — Sarah Schleuning, curator of decorative arts and design at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, and Mark Wilson, chief curator at the Groninger Museum in the Netherlands — and described the exhibition as a perfect match for the city and for the museum.
Samantha Robinson, interim assistant curator of decorative arts and design at the DMA, agreed with Arteaga and emphasized the importance of access to van Herpen’s work for women and girls. “We have a designer who is designing her future … starting from a place of feminism,” Robinson said. “Without the woman’s body, her work is not complete.”
The exhibition is structured chronologically and by collection, with the outfits displayed in rows and on custom mannequins. A few television screens also show catwalk footage of models strutting in the clothes, but because of the runway’s “fleeting” nature, Schleuning explained, it made sense for the exhibition to provide a space for guests to be still with van Herpen’s creations and to have the opportunity to examine the materials up close.
“We view the work as sculpture,” Schleuning said, and indeed, the ensembles are layered, three-dimensional sculptures that explode the boundaries of style and space.
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Unlike many artists who have either one muse or a fount of inspiration from which they continually draw, van Herpen pulls from a diverse array of sources and influences. Whether the starting point is a scene from her personal life or from an imagined future, each of van Herpen's collections — Voltage, Escapism, Mummification and Radiation Invasion, to name a few — centers on a theme with a corresponding title, and the selection of the materials, the cut and the design of the outfit tell the story from there.
Standouts of the exhibition include: a collared dress (Chemical Crows, 2008) that incorporates the ribs of a children’s umbrella, industrial boat yarns, cow leather and metal eyelets; a bone-colored shirt and skirt (Crystallization, 2010) comprising hard 3-D printed polymide, goat leather and transparent, lasered acrylic sheets; and a dramatic gown (Refinery Smoke, 2008) that elicits both the allure and the danger of toxic industrial fumes. Additionally, a footwear collection (Hacking Infinity, Shoes, 2015) showcases more 3-D printed materials and alien-esque designs that many will recognize from Lady Gaga’s red carpet outings.
Iris van Herpen: Transforming Fashion requires a special exhibition ticket of $16 for adults, with discounts for students, military personnel and seniors; DMA members and children 11 and younger are admitted for free.