“Magnetic Motion” was the title of Iris van Herpen’s show this afternoon, and it was indeed a collection in flux, both in terms of its inspiration and the continuing progression it represented for the designer.
The high-concept presentation was a little more subtle this season—away from the boil-in-the-bag models of last and at the top of Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano’s Pompidou Centre instead. The journey up six sets of escalators, through the exposed infrastructure of the building, to the terrace with its grand vista of Paris was part of the point: “To visualize something invisible, that is my ongoing fascination,” said the designer of her latest collection. And by choosing a revolutionary building that introduced the concept of doing just that in architecture, she made the first subtle move of a more subtle, light, and lyrical collection.
Earlier this year, Van Herpen visited CERN and the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, where powerful magnetic fields manipulate the building blocks of the universe. The designer applied this idea to manipulating the building blocks of the collection at times—for example, the shoes were “grown” with magnets and a fixative applied, each one slightly different.
The progress and growth of the collection is something the designer wanted to put on display for the viewer and the wearer. The show moved from delicate, black patent leather laser-cut pieces—some of which were the physical manifestation in their patterning of an echo—to grid structured leather, fixed with silicone pins and functioning like armor or an exoskeleton, to soft velvet encased in netting. The pièce de résistance “halo” silhouettes at the end of the show were the physical embodiment in silicone of invisible magnetic forces. These were perfected by the Canadian architect Philip Beesley, one of Van Herpen’s frequent collaborators, who was joined this time by the Dutch artist Jólan van der Wiel.
Van Herpen clearly relishes these collaborations and the way they enable and enhance the fusion of nature and technology that is her thematic signature. Looking at the techniques that are on display in this collection, you can’t help but feel these collaborations are like a 21st-century version of working with Lesage and Lemarié, the embroidery and feather/detail specialists that are part of the grand history of haute couture. Appropriately enough, Van Herpen is applying this progress to the medium of ready-to-wear and she is bringing something totally unique to the discipline.
Crucially, the designer’s clothing is becoming more refined while her experiments abound. Her ambitions to work with the great scientific institutions—and her powers of persuasion over them—are something to be applauded. But progress is key: Van Herpen’s collections are growing both literally and metaphorically here. And like magnetized iron filings, you can see it all coming together for her.