Iris van Herpen: Nearer to Normality

Iris van Herpen, as ever, had the word for her collection: “Syntopia”. It suggested her particular blend of technology and technique, but no longer in the La-La Land of the incomprehensible or unwearable.

The slender coat that opened the collection was elegantly tailored in woven leather, merging into wool. To be more accurate, I turned to the information on the pack of cards left on the seats in the pitch dark of Le Trianon, the old Paris theatre. They had to be studied later. The official description read: “Nude leather woven through parametric file-making and laser-cutting into grey wool.”

Iris knows how to capture the imagination. Overhead, an artwork suspended from the ceiling moved gently, like a bird flying in slow motion. While the models below walked the length of the “stage”, the colours changed subtly and artistically from a neutral grey, through turquoise, olive green, deep red… and finally an explosion of white wings. The showmanship of this brief collection was stellar.

Backstage, Natalia Vodianova, dressed in the designer’s work, proved that it was both wearable and appealing. I asked Iris about her her approach, the mental processes and method of manufacture that had produced this collection.

“I worked with the artists on the installation , and I was looking at chronophotography,” the designer explained. “It’s like taking different photos in one second. I started looking at how it felt and taking photos like that. I took milliseconds of movements so I changed the grain of the fabric. I also changed the way of something that would normally happen in longer time. So it’s really about slowing down time.”

The descriptions of each outfit were complex yet comprehensible. And there was no sense of the torture experienced by her models in the past – I once saw them wrapped and hung up in plastic – to express the van Herpen vision. There has been that uncomfortable feeling occasionally in previous collections. Here, all was calm and often lovely, as in an “Aeolian” dress in organza coloured the blue of a summer sky, pleated into a half-wheel. Iris described it as being “like glass wings in thin air”.

This sense of flight included an asymmetric dress with what was described as “chronophotographic” lines of bird-wing movements. That gave an airy lightness and graceful fragility to the whole collection.

It is easy to think that Iris does not change her approach much between collections. But I feel the opposite. There is deep thought and exceptional technique in her clothes. And this season’s presentation of the human body morphing into the wings of a dove was romantic, elegant, and one of those rare explorations of the future of fashion, which can be welcomed with open arms. Or rather, with open wings.