Terraforming was the overarching concept in Iris van Herpen’s collection today. Terra what? For those who have not seen Total Recall (the Paul Verhoeven original; you know, you really should—it explains much about terraforming on Mars), the term means modifying the biosphere of another planet to resemble that of Earth.

In van Herpen’s collections, science fiction often meets science fact, and perhaps here was the most literal expression of the combination. “The whole concept of terraforming started in science fiction, but it has become a reality,” said the designer after her show. “It made me think about what is our space? Should we do it? The collection is mainly my fantasy of what we would do.”

With that in mind, she “terraformed” her materials and in the process invented new terrains in terms of fabrications. This was done through a combination of the man-made and the natural, and at times formed new geologies in the fabrics themselves. One incredible material was a combination of stainless steel in the warp and silk in the weft, producing a fine, fluid dress silk. Heat was applied throughout the collection—just as would happen in the case of that prime target for terraforming, Mars (NASA has even held conferences about this). The process provided a punch to meta-woven materials; this is what gave certain looks their distinct coloration and texture—like a boiling oil slick mixed with silk. Three-dimensionality was important again for van Herpen: Her signature 3-D printing was visible, especially in the shoes that resembled rock-crystal formations captured in a net of laser-cut leather. Also important was the notion of infinity, which gave the circle pride of place in patterning, particularly in handwoven textiles made with Aleksandra Gaca and in the architect Philip Beesley’s creations of digitally fabricated dresses, described as a “black garden of fractal-like geometries.”

When you consider the distinctly sci-fi look of some of the clothing (most successful was a nod to the “sand suit” from David Lynch’s Dune) and the strange desirability of the 3-D grid and handwoven daywear (a distinct departure for the designer), the overriding impression was of a delicacy and finer tuning in the collection than has ever existed before. The power of the casting and stripped-back styling was also tighter than ever.

At the same time, the presentation itself had a feeling of pared-back flatness, accentuated by the unyielding, plain square of the Palais de Tokyo venue and in the heavy-going music. And van Herpen needs to convey her ideas through the metaphor of the show as much as anything else, otherwise her incredible research and material processes will be lost in translation. This is where one of the great show producers could help marry it all—van Herpen should indeed make things slicker and yet that does not mean bowing to convention. Fashion doesn’t have to be about theatrics, but in this designer’s case the terrain of the catwalk needs to be terraformed, making things come to life as much in the mind of the audience as in the materiality of the clothing.

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