Iris van Herpen: Transforming Fashion

Credit: Shanley  Lenart/ Credit: Shanley Lenart/ Credit: Shanley  Lenart/ Credit: Shanley Lenart/

Iris van Herpen: Transforming Fashion, the current fashion exhibit at the Carnegie Museum of Art captures themes that are very familiar to us. Throughout the city of Pittsburgh, we often encounter sights that combine technology with art. The unique culture of the city is what makes Pittsburgh one of the best places to display this Dutch designer’s collection. From the outfits with textures imitating those of wildlife and natural forces to the ones with 3D printed accessories, the ideas in van Herpen’s pieces are those that we can easily relate to.

When you first walk into the exhibit, it’ll feel like you’re on a runway, with dimmed lighting and models posing on your left and right. All three rooms that housed the various pieces from fifteen of van Herpen’s collections have the same principle setup: mannequin models lined up standing on long white platforms, surrounded by dark purple walls for a chic feel. The clothes are what add the diversity, fascination, and curiosity to the viewer’s experience.

In the first room, the first selection of van Herpen collections you’ll find are "Refinery Smoke" and "Mummification." The "Refinery Smoke" pieces were a personal favorite because all the dresses gave off illusions of smoke, which covered parts of the mannequins’ bodies. The exhibit described van Herpen’s interpretations of smoke as “sinister, alive, and toxic,” and that by wearing it, one can have more control over such a dark and mysterious entity. The "Mummification" collection held this theme of wrapping, where most of the dresses were tightly fitted and some outfits were wrapped around more parts of the body than others. Its pieces also had a dark theme, represented by the dark colors of various dresses and the exhibit describing the whole concept as “macabre.”

As you continue exploring more collections, you’ll find dresses made in innovative ways from some of the most unique materials; dresses made from children’s umbrellas, glass, and 3D prints are just a few examples. Several of the materials were put on sample display for visitors to experience and touch.

Dresses in the "Wilderness Embodied" collection depicted “wild forces,” where the fabric from some dresses were made to look like actual leaves. The "Capriole" collection (capriole meaning “leap in the air” in French) was a unique one that presented the experience of free-falling. One of the dresses in this collection was crafted to look like the skeleton of a human, and it was supposed to represent the overwhelming feeling of terror before parachuting out of a plane. All the dresses from the different collections were captivating, however one from van Herpen’s "Crystallization" collection was particularly special in that it was the first 3D printed dress to ever walk down a runway. I’d advise you to visit the exhibit to find the dress and see it for yourself.

Van Herpen does her best to incorporate all the relevant themes and ideas we encounter in the world today. She tackles complex concepts which might be difficult for the viewer to wrap their head around, such as the behaviors of natural forces or the effects of technology on society, and presents her interpretations by crafting dresses in manners that make her focuses obvious. It makes sense that her pieces have attracted people from all over the world, including well known designers and celebrities like Beyoncé and Lady Gaga. Van Herpen has shown others how fashion can evolve at the same pace and in the same manner as culture and technology around the world. There’s a lot to learn from viewing her collections, and they’ll only be at the Carnegie Museum of Art until May 1, so be sure to check it out before then!