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Interview: Iris van Herpen


Interview: Iris van Herpen

The boundary-pushing haute couture designer on collaborating with Dom Pérignon for their latest vintage, the 2004 Metamorphosis

by Karen Day
on 04 September 2014

At just 30 years old, Dutch designer Iris van Herpen has already turned the fashion world on its head with her wildly futuristic approach to haute couture. Her unique interdisciplinary take on fashion has gained the admiration of notable style pioneers like Björk and Lady Gaga, but her groundbreaking techniques speak to a range of brilliant minds—most recently that of Dom Pérignon’s Chef de Cave, Richard Geoffrey. The famed French champagne-maker tapped van Herpen to create a structure and the packaging for the maison's latest limited edition release, the second plénitude of their Vintage 2004 they've dubbed Metamorphosis.

Geoffrey tells us, "I really believe there is a world of correspondences from one field to the other. Iris is so driven, she's young—so young—but so strong. She's a woman of few words, but then you realize she's in her own world of so many layers and layers. She's pushing the boundaries to unprecedented levels. With that level of technology, she's stretching the equation to the extreme. I think Iris is on the verge of making it in the world in a big way, a big way—that's for certain."

We sat down with the award-winning, forward-thinking designer to learn more about her collaboration with Dom Pérignon and her exceptional ability to combine science and nature with fashion and technology.

How did you come to work with Dom Pérignon on Metamorphosis?

We met and talked about inspiration and the process of making, and the way they create the vintage. I talked about my inspiration and it really linked, the way we thought of having nature a part of the process and the integration of metamorphosis really won me and then I went to Epernay to see the whole creation and perfectionism—it really inspired me, so we went on collaborating on the idea of metamorphosis.

The whole process of the collaboration with Richard was really a big inspiration for me. I thought it was really beautiful how time is such an important element and nature as well—it's really a creation of nature—but at the same time, there's so much control and perfectionism in it, it's like this constant interaction between the two. I also found it really beautiful what he said about creating a memory. I feel like with the wine-making, you focus on the inside of the bottle, in my work I really focus on the outside so I think the two roles, when they combine, it's really really interesting. The ferrofluid piece is also a really nice balance between nature because it's the magnetic field that is creating the actual shape of the sculpture, but at the same time there's a 3D-printed base and part of the shape, so it's really nature and technology fighting together almost, or being one. It's just how you look at it.

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How do you start a new project? Does it come from a desire to use a new piece of technology?

Not really, for me technology is more a tool and it just gives me more freedom in my imagination. Often I have something in my mind that is not possible today, that's why I'm always trying to limit the boundaries of my possibilities because it just gives me more freedom in my creation, so technology is really a tool for that. I can be really inspired by nature, by technology, by art and by dance, but technology is always more like a tool for me. I find it inspiring to see what an artist does with it—for example, Jólan van der Wiel is a good example of that—many people find ways to combine technology and biology and I find it the most exciting. For me it's never the starting point. With this, the process was Dom Pérignon and the craftsmanship that they have and the work that Richard is trying to create. I really got inspired by that, and an energy as well from visiting Epernay and the whole cellar experience. The darkness and the different time experience that you have there. Fashion is so fast, and there it's really a different world. Like a parallel universe—I really felt inspired by that. That's really where the sculpture came from, and using a 3D printer was just a tool to get the structure out there. I started drawing by hand, using pen and paper.

With so much interest in biology and technology, how did you end up in fashion?

[Laughs] I find the body a really beautiful thing to create for. Working on a sculpture like this was the first time for me, which was super exciting because suddenly the limitations and possibilities of the body are not there, so it's really a different way of thinking. But naturally in my own work, the body is always the first thing that's in my mind, and movement is essential to me as well. The [ferrofluid sculpture] is all about movement because I thought that's a really beautiful part of the wine-making process, it's always being moved to evolve its taste. I come from a dance background as well, so movement is a very natural element in everything that I have in my mind. If I think of a dress it's not of an identity that I have in my mind, it's of the movement of the body that is first.

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How do you keep such fluidity in your work when you're using scientific or tech materials like magnets or ferrofluids?

The magnets I've been using for my Wilderness collection because we grow structures by the magnets, but they were all flexible. And then the 3D-printed pieces that we do are also a flexible material. This 3D print is a hard material [for the Dom Pérignon "Cocoonase" structure] because it has a different function, so it really depends what you're working on. Here, I didn't have the limitations of the flexibility so I could go so detailed in the structure which was a lot of freedom for me. If I do collaborations with a dancer for example, then it's all about the extreme movement possibility.

I really found out that if you have a connection with someone and you can get a sense of the way they create, it's so valuable. You really learn a lot about yourself by working with others...
You've been quoted as saying you didn't enjoy collaborating when you were younger, but that seems like an essential part of your work now. Has that changed?

Well, I must say that I'm a pretty introverted person. I find it hard to connect with a group of people, one-on-one is really good, but a group of people is too much information for me. I think I'm sensitive to energies. But I really found out that if you have a connection with someone and you can get a sense of the way they create, it's so valuable. You really learn a lot about yourself by working with others—maybe even more than focusing by yourself constantly. As an artist, I think it's really natural to focus on yourself and it's scary to share that with others, but once you do it—at least in my experience—I think you get knowledge and inspiration from it. Getting to know the process of the champagne-making, it's such a different way of thinking and working it really gave me inspiration. The way Richard is super drawn into his world, getting a touch of that world is so valuable for me.

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Is there anything you learned from Richard that you'll implement into your own working methods?

I do realize the materiality of my own work. Where he is really focused on a moment, of celebrating with someone, you sort of create a memory. Because when you have drunk the champagne, it's not there anymore, so it's really about the memory of that moment and I thought that was really beautiful and it's almost like dance as well. As a dancer, it's that moment that you create and when you stop dancing that moment is gone. With me, I create a dress and it's there, it's a material thing and more focused on the outside of the body whereas the champagne is really about the experience. I suddenly realized there are so many senses that you can touch with creation. With me it's mostly the visual one, but sometimes I try to overlap senses. For example the Embossed Sounds collection have sensors in the clothes, so you have to touch the clothes and they made an orchestra together. I think within the experience of the drinking, you touch a lot of senses. It's a very, almost emotional, product that you create.

Additional reporting by Evan Orensten

Images courtesy of Dom Pérignon, Iris van Herpen and Karen Day

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