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Dressing Björk: Meet Fashion Designer Iris Van Herpen

Dressing Björk: Meet Fashion Designer Iris Van Herpen

Photo: Inez van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin 
© 2011 Wellhart/One Little Indian

While browsing Iris van Herpen’s latest couture collection, we realized the designer is also the mastermind behind the intricate, gold, harp-belted masterpiece (based off her Synesthesia F/W 2010 collection, belt by threeASFOUR) that Björk wore on the cover of her Biophillia album cover and in the music video for “Moon.”

The Synesthesia collection, constructed from reinforced leather covered with glossy foil accents, was inspired by the neurological condition of the same name that enlivens multiple senses, even if only one is being stimulated—for instance, being able to “hear” colors or “see” sounds (sounds like the best problem ever to us). Since the concept of Björk’s Biophillia is all about making connections between nature and music, it makes sense that Björk would choose a dress that’s inspired by science.

Van Herpen also created the custom, angular, midnight blue dress (based off her Escapism S/S 2011 collection) that Björk’s currently wearing on stage during her month-long Biophillia NYC residency. Themed around escaping reality through digital devices and entertainment, the entire Escapism collection was 3D printed, fashioned from materials like coral-looking metal silk, burnt metal weave, and shiny yarn hairs.

Björk at the New York Hall of Science; Photo courtesy of the artist.

Iris van Herpen’s most recent Spring 2012 couture collection, Micro, shown in Paris two weeks ago, was inspired by scientific SEM photographs of bacilli, vermin, mites, lice and termites. “I wanted to show the beauty of them, because in my eyes they are the most bizarre, unbelievable and most imaginative creatures imaginable,” said van Herpen over email. The bulbous dresses were fashioned from clusters of amphibious-looking plexiglass, 3D modeled on the computer before sewed onto the garments.

A look from Micro S/S 2012.

We spoke to van Herpen to find out more about Björk’s custom-made getups, the connection between nature and fashion, and the future of couture.

The Creators Project: The Synesthesia collection was based off the neurological condition, and Björk’s Biophillia is all about showcasing the similarities between music and biology. Do you think there’s a similar tie between biology and fashion?
Iris van Herpen:
Fashion can be a very abstract word, almost like art. A shop [selling] pajamas for €3, made in China, calls itself fashion, and fashion is also handcrafted [clothing] made [over] 4,000 hours with the most special materials. For fashion/clothes in general, I do not see similarities between biology and fashion. If you speak about fashion in the way we see art, then I can see relationship, no similarities.

Everything that lives has a skin/an outside, which is basically fashion as well—it’s our skin and is part of our personality. Real fashion that interests me are the few clothes that can change a person’s emotions and even his or her identity—the way you feel and express yourself to the world. The extreme sensitivity that people with synesthesia experience—feeling a color or tasting music, or even by taking drugs or by meditation—shows that there is much more possible with our senses than [how] we use them daily. That was—and still is—a big inspiration for me. Imagine I could make a dress for a synesthetic person who could taste the colors of the dress and hear the technique in it. Fashion is a place to discover identity, emission, and emotion. I also had to think about the animals that go through extreme transmissions, like larva that become butterflies, or a chameleon or snake that loses its skin entirely.

A look from Synesthesia F/W 2010.

How did you select the materials for this particular collection?
For my Synesthesia collection I used a variety of leathers with special treatments to them, like gold foils, laser-cuts and lacquer impregnations. I tried to create materials that were strong, but very sensitive at the same time, which trigger your senses with reflection, movement/vibration, and the sounds they make.

Could you describe the intricacies of Björk’s Synesthesia dress in detail?
We first made a well-fitting dress of black fabric, that followed the shape of the body till the knees. Upon that dress there is a more complicated pattern of handiwork. They are all separate pieces of dark, aubergine leather with a gold foil treatment on the back. The pieces were hand cut into tiny [half-centimeter] strokes. Half of the strokes were turned 180 degrees to the left side and the other half were turned the other way. Then they were sewn together so that they stayed [in place] after they were hand-sewn onto the dress. All together they create a pattern of reflection that comes from the back of the leather, because they are turned at some points. It was a big puzzle to make the pattern connect with the body shape, but it looked quite natural in the end.

Photo: Inez van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin 
© 2011 Wellhart/One Little Indian. threeasFOUR.

What other custom-made pieces have you designed? Do you find working with other artists inspiring, or do you prefer to be led by your own creative pursuits?
Actually, my most favorite custom-made dress is the latest dress that I made for Björk. We made a dress from many semi-transparent electric blue sheets that were all layered to create a shape of a shell. The angle of light makes the dress change from a very dark, dark blue to a reflective bright blue. I work a lot with other artists, architects, dancers, musicians, etc. I need to [avoid getting] stuck in my own little bubble or in the small world of fashion. I need it to not get crazy. I believe if you do a collaboration the right way with the right people there isn’t any limitation for your own creative pursuits. My creative processes are triggered/enriched by collaborations.

Björk at the New York Hall of Science; Photo courtesy of the artist.

What kinds of innovative materials/technologies are you working with currently? Have you had any epic triumphs or fails?
For my latest collection, Micro, I worked with 3D printing, combined with a technique called ‘copper electroplating bath.’ I also tried new laser-techniques. And we also created a transparent (chemically-made) snakeskin designed by artist Bart Hess. What I liked is that people think the 3D printed “Cathedral Dress” is hand-crafted out of wood, instead it is the most technical look of the collection. Old and new techniques seems to mix up the eyes. Two other 3D prints did not work out the way I wanted. There were mistakes in the files so they were not wearable. That was terrible to find out after three months of hard work on them.

The “Cathedral Dress” from Micro S/S 2012

What do you think couture will look like in 20 years? Will ready-to-wear look different?
Impossible to think about. It must be something (hopefully) that I cannot imagine today. I hope there is a bigger and more interesting melt of couture and prêt-à-porter—that the gaps in-between get smaller.

A closer look at Micro S/S 2012

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