The New Craftsmanship Iris van Herpen? and her Inspiration “With my work I intend to show that fashion can certainly have an added value to the world” In the Centraal Museum of Utrecht, Netherlands, renowned fashion designer/artist Iris van Herpen (1984) exhibits a highly personal side of her work for the public from 29 June until 9 October 2011. By contrasting her designs with what worked as the inspiration behind them, van Herpen’s futuristic approach to fashion is displayed with art dating back to the sixteenth to the nineteenth century creating an unusual opposition in the general mood of the show.
In addition to a contrast between old and new, one will also find work by other contemporary artists that have inspired van Herpen or collaborated with her. These include artists such as American-born sculptor Kris Kuksi; Dutch choreographer Nanine Linning; hat designers Stephen Jones and Irene Bussemaker; Dutch artist Bart Hess who shares van Herpen’s futuristic approach in his work; and architect Daniel Widrig whose main influence in the show was with 3D printing. Upon entering the exhibition one enters a calm space with soft music playing in the background.
Looking up towards the high raised ceiling you can see Nanine Linning’s opera inspired performance piece with van Herpen’s extravagant costumes and haute couture creations in larger than life projections on the bare white walls. Below these displays one would find the original costumes as seen in the performance. Referring back to the contrast between old and new, or rather ancient and innovative, it was interesting to note which of van Herpen’s designs were paired up with what ancient artefact and why.
Leaving the theatricality of Linning behind, the show carries you away from the modernity of projectors through to a series of antique items including a bookshelf, chairs and tables as well as paintings by the popular Parisian painter Pierre Joseph Sauvage and an expensive silk wall panel from Lyon in France. These were shown next to one of van Herpen’s more ‘wearable’ garments, a dress, which could be assumed to be made of fabric containing metal threads, having been concentinaed to create a voluminous shape reminiscent of coral reefs. Similar to the layout of the exhibition, Van
Herpen’s approach to fashion stems from the interaction between handmade, an old-fashioned method of construction, and innovation, through constant pursuit of new techniques and materials. One of van Herpen’s most recently discovered techniques is a form of rapid prototyping called 3D printing. This technology came into use in 2003 mainly for duplicating valuable artefacts for museums. Cleverly, through collaboration with architect Daniel Widrig, van Herpen uses this technology to create what looks like sculpted dresses or headgear, once again reminiscent of the shape of coral reefs or some sorts of skeletal forms.
This side of van Herpen’s collection was shown alongside work of goldsmiths form the seventeenth-century. This juxtapose truly emphasized the origins of the inspiration for her designs. There was an apparent connection between the auricular styled crockery, plates, crowns etc. and her laser sintering technique. With further regard to the 3D printing technique, the designer herself believes, “it is a matter a time before we can print the clothing we wear today”.
It is truly inspiring to see an artist of such a young age produce something that has the prospects of having a massive impact on the industry itself and, well, everything really. If we can produce our clothing with 3D printing technology, maybe we can also produce furniture through the same process, or even houses, maybe even bridges and buildings. Just imagine! As for the overall impression of the exhibition itself; the concept and story behind it was thoughtful and interesting, the layout was appealing, and the work itself was beautiful and innovative.

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