Iris van Herpen

By Sarah Klose

The dutch designer Iris van Herpen graduated in 2006 from the ArtEZ Institute of Arts in Arnhem and proved herself as an eminently talented and promising woman, we all should have a closer look at and definitely keep her subsequently in mind!

With her avantgarde and futuristic designs Iris opens a new field of vision and shows an extraordinary creativity without any limits! Her pieces aren’t really mass-produced articles or noticed for their functionality, but rather for their unique, qualitative and exceptionally remarkable appearance, what makes her clothes and Iris specially as well.

Currently we have so many talented designers outside, but there are only a few who really can transport feelings with their collections; who encourage us to dream, or, what is more important, who fascinate and inspire us in their own way. Those people are special.

And Iris van Herpen belongs to this circle!

The latest collection of Iris is called “Crystallization” which she presented exclusive as a preview with ten of these designs at the Amsterdam International Fashion Week last July.

What I expected from her and afterwards saw, were innovative and strong pieces, with a little dramatic effect in them, bearing the well known hallmarks of Iris.

It’s not surprising that the reactions of her work are continuously good, although, to be precise, she actually is a world away from what most of the people are accustomed and this is what constitutes her!

Iris designs are extraordinary and new, with the potential to bring Iris even further on a higher level in the fashion business. And I’m quite sure we have a new full of promise designer for the future now!


How did you first get interested in fashion (design) and when did you decide to study for it?

My grandmother has a huge loft where she had a big collection of clothes, costumes, shoes, handbags, wigs, masks, jewellery, hats, makeup, and everything else that you could imagine. I was to find endless there since I can remember; combining new looks together, mostly with a friend, wearing them, and later do fotoshoots with it. I loved doing that, still when I became older as well.

On high school I continued that with my friends, also with our own clothes, or clothes and accessories from others, etc. I re-made a lot for myself and also started to go to second hand markets very often. In that time on high school I knew for sure I wanted to go to the art academie (I did a course of all directions on), because I liked to paint and create other things as well. But while doing the course I knew fashion was my way to express.

It’s clearly visible that your collections always have a very futuristic look and are characterized therefor as well. What was the first thought in general behind creating pieces like these and afterwards continuously following these style/vision?

In the beginning the process of making was still very unconscious. Is was not like this that I was thinking; I want to design futuristic clothes, very detailed etc. First my designs came by just doing and not analysing myself too much. Because I started very young. When you become older you realise more who you are, what you think etc. So the process of making and designing grows with you. It is a interaction of growing up and translating that into your work. I am a bit more aware of who I am, what I love and where I stand for. But I am still young, learning and exploring life and the creative process of designing every day. So my style and vision is still growing, develloping and changing with me.

It is not that you get born with a certain vision or style, that is something that becomes alive through the life you live and it grows by the surrender of going through the creative process every day. I really feel that by designing I get to know myself better and the other way around.

Have you always been attracted by unusual and extraordinary clothes?

Fashion is a way to express yourself. Fortunately I do not think I am a boring person and I am happy that I have the passion to express that. I get bored quite quickly and especially when you walk through the streets of the Netherlands. The clothes that people wear here in general do not show any personality or creative minds. It is uninteresting and it distracts me.

The creating process of your pieces seems to be a very laborious and difficult work, which needs a lot of time. So what does your day look like; how much time do you spend with your work?

My pieces do need a lot of time. And the interesting thing is, I am not a patient person at all. I can’t stand waiting for example for a train or a bus. I hate wasting time in that sense! The only time I am patient, is when I make my designs. Sometimes it is almost like meditation, I come in another state of mind. It is only about my own world then, nothing else matters that much anymore. It is good for seeing things in perspective, the importance of things. The only thing I have to be careful with is that I still mind about others things as well enough, because I create and design every day!

A day of mine is a lot of handwork, but (how not romantic) a lot of computer work as well. And a lot of organising and communication with people that work around you. Also placing orders, sending designs and the new 3D technique I am exploring now, the rapid prototyping is also a lot of computer work.

I never make really easy things, so all looks need at least a week or two, three to four.

What are your steps of implementing of your ideas after finishing the sketches? And which part do you enjoy most, the conception or the implementation of an idea?

I have actually 4 ways of designing. Sometimes I do the normal way, I draw something on paper and I implement it afterwards into real life. But mostly I have the design detailed in my head and I implement it without any drawings then.

Or I start experimenting with different materials and techniques. And if I like some of the experiments, I start to endlessly moulage with it around a mannequin. Afterwards I make patterns and then the implementation comes. So the moulage is the design process. With that process I do not know where I will end if I start.

And now the new way of working is there as well, the rapid prototyping; I have something in my mind, I draw everything, optical 3D but actually 2D, on the computer. Then somebody else translates it into real 3D on the compter and after that a interaction of me and him starts; the whole process to find out what is possible and what isn’t.

I like all different ways of working. Within the rapid prototyping processes, I still like the whole process because it is still new for me. For the previous methods I like the implement phase the most, because it is out of my head then, that is a relief, it gives me more rest. The more it is out, the better it is for me.

Many designers are saying art is a very big and important source of inspirations. What is your opinion about that concerning your work and your personal biggest inspirational source?

For me life itself is the most inspiring form of art. All things we describe as normal; humans, animals, the civilisation process, us changing, the heart, and I could name another thousand things, are for me the purest form of art.

A lot of art is very inspiring for me, but mostly the person behind the work is my biggest inspiration. It is not the final art piece or even the concept behind it, it is the person and the way the artist lives and creates that inspires me. And a real pure way of inspiration I experience sometimes; if I see something really new, something really beautiful in art, it makes me happy and it gives me direct energy to create myself. Then it is just the feeling/energy of the work that it gives me, not as a inspiration for concept or anything.

It’s obvious that your collections aren’t like “mass-produced items”, but they are unquestionably incredible. Despite the positiv feedback, how many of your pieces can you finally really sell?

I made a few times some of the looks for a shop. It is still handwork but possible to make it once in a while. Some of the looks are sold as a one-off and sometimes I make a one-off order for somebody personally. The shoes, and I am working on my first bag now, I sell in bigger amounts. They are still a limited edition, not a mass product, but in bigger amounts than the clothes.

Have you ever doubted at the beginning of your career that your designs maybe wouldn’t be well received by the public, in consideration of that you aren’t creating (daily) wearable pieces, but rather futuristic and avant-garde clothes with a dramatic appearance? If so, what helped you to go this way and nevertheless follow your vision?

I was a bit scared in the beginning to share my work with others, because it was so personal, and I had no idea if people would understand what I am creating. My concepts are quite abstract and unusual. So I didn’t know at all how to explain them clear to the outerworld. I still find that hard sometimes, because I like to philosophize and change my mind about my work and concepts all the time. Now I accept that and people around me know. In the beginning I thought the people would find that strange or chaotically. But the feeling that I needed to share with others what I am creating was always stronger than the doubts.

What really made me go for it is the interaction that I needed. Something is nothing without people seeing it or experience it.

How much of your personal character do we really find in your collections? Is there a philosophy behind your designs?

My main philosophy is re-evaluating reality, because the notion of reality is just as subjective as the notion of art.

I once said this in an interview, and it is still true: “My motivation lies in channeling the philosophical debate through the creative process itself. As if expressing the journey and the search for answers with cautionary pieces of fashion, constantly chasing conclusions that will never be caught is the whole point.”

In the end my clothes are a form of art with a clear and simple goal; to please our insides with our outsides and a way to express and underline individuality. The essence of all my designs is expressing the character of an unique woman and extend the shape of the feminine body in detail. I combine her femininity with performance and exclusivity.

So far you’ve already worked with big names like Alexander McQueen and Viktor & Rolf. What would you say, which were the best and helpful things you’ve learned through that and how did you experience that time at all?

I learned a lot of practical things, about handwork, patterns, special materials, the process of research etc. But I also learned a lot from the experience of working for a big label. Fashion is a business and McQueen is a company. It is a co-operation between a lot of people working around one vision. I did not really realize that before I worked there.

I also learned that it is really hard work and that it needs a lot of patience, time and passion to create something beautiful and interesting.

Have you ever received a setback in your career? What could help to continue and not give up in a situation like that?

My biggest setback is my dissatisfaction and perfectionism. I am actually hardly ever really happy about my work. It is mostly just a moment of happiness and after I am already designing the next piece in my head because I feel I can do better. It would really help if I had some time and rest within myself so that I also can enjoy my work. But on the other hand the same dissatisfaction and perfectionism force me to the extreme reciprocity between beauty and regeneration, which is me.

In that sense it is a setback that I need to improve myself.

Beside your work; how much free time do you have and what are you doing to relax from work?

I spend my free time with friends or my boyfriend, with reading, going to a party, museum, a park, a movie, family, enjoying food, drinks and life. The usual stuff. I used to travel a lot, I should do that some more.

And in the end, tell us something about your expectances for the coming years. Any plans, projects…?

I am now starting to develop the technique rapid prototyping more in my work, which I find fascinating. And I am developing my first bag and want to do some more accessories in the near future.

In march I will have my first show in Paris, so that is exciting. I am also going to create within a concept in a way that I didn’t do before, for the Arnhem Mode Biennale next year. Some new exhibitions are coming up as well and I am going to do an interesting collaboration next year, but I cannot say something about that yet.

Photos By Sarah Klose