A Conversation With Iris van Herpen

January 26, 2022

Since launching her Maison in 2007, the Haute Couture of Dutch designer Iris van Herpen has manifested as a multidisciplinary experience – one that merges technology, savoir-faire and an ethereal aesthetic that is at once exceptionally organic and otherworldly. Often in collaboration with specialists across the fields of engineering, architecture, art and performance, she arrives at creations that frame Haute Couture in a whole other realm. These futuristic yet romantic dresses are increasingly present on the red carpet, worn by Lady Gaga, Naomi Campbell, Beyoncé, Fan Bingbing and Cate Blanchett among others, while also appearing in museum exhibitions and collections around the world. Van Herpen’s meticulous research, development and vision speak to the evolution of fashion as it considers greater global issues, prompting both admiration and awe.

Courtesy: Iris van Herpen

Are you a dreamer? 
Absolutely. Dreaming is an important feeling of freedom to sense creativity. Since the pandemic I’ve started to meditate, and this is a very refined state of dreaming, as well. The transcendental state in meditation is something in between being awake and sleeping. 

How do you distinguish sleep dreams and life dreams? 
I don’t distinguish sleep dreams and life dreams. I believe we often underestimate our unconscious mind and intuition. Sleep dreams are often exaggerated, but the core feelings entwined through them are often important expressions of our intuition. Learning to listen to them can help steer life dreams and vice versa. 

Had you dreamed of becoming a designer? 
I have always dreamed of being an artist. From a very young age, I’ve wanted to transform people and myself. I had multiple passions for music, dance, sculpture, and fashion. So I knew I wanted to go to the art academy early on, but it took me some time – once I was 17 – to find out I could combine these various interests into fashion.

Why do you think people dream of working in fashion? 
Fashion can be so much; it can be surreal, expressionist, hypnotic. It really is a transformative language. Fashion is like a painting of identity, and it’s so personal and so powerful. That’s why so many people are attracted to it and dream of creating for fashion.

Do you get creative ideas from your sleeping dreams? If so, have you ever translated a dream into an actual design? 
For my Lucid collection, I explored the concept of lucid dreaming as I was having my own lucid dreams. When being in this in-between world, I was conscious of my own dreaming – being able to exert a degree of control on what was happening. Most of the time when I design, the draping process happens to me unconsciously. So I see lucid dreams as a microscope with which I could look into my unconsciousness. In the Lucid collection, I have tried to intertwine my state of reality and my state of dreaming; to reflect the fine and organic line between reality and unreality. I still think back on this collection a lot because it brought me closer to the question of why I create –and transcendence is definitely part of the answer. 

When was the last time a dream came true for you? 
A few months ago, when we had our table at the Met Gala in NY, it was a dream come true to create for such incredibly inspiring women as Grimes, Gabrielle Union, Tessa Thompson, Hailee Steinfeld, Winnie Harlow and Valentina Sampaio. Each of them has such a beautiful story of what they represent, what they stand for and who they inspire, and their dreams. Being able to express this in refined textures, materials, shape and silhouette was a dream. 

Do you have a dream that remains unfulfilled? 
There are artists and philosophers from the past that have shaped my way of thinking, stretched my perspectives towards reality and my creative process. 
Some, I have met in my dreams; if only I could really meet them. But it’s good to have dreams that will always remain unfulfilled. 

What is your wildest dream for the state of the world? 
It can be summarised in one simple word: equality. This one word resumes so much that so many people all over the world dream about. Equality includes racial equality, gender equality, economic equality and also environmental equality. Environmental equality shows us we can only create health for ourselves when our planet is healthy. This includes restoring biodiversity through recovering large areas of wilderness, to restore clean water and air. The most fundamental and basic dreams of all – our health and well-being – sometimes seem the ones we have moved away from the furthest.

What is one dream you would like to achieve this coming year?
I am always looking for new forms of femininity and my philosophy is that fashion needs to inspire us to create and re-create ourselves, from our past identities towards our unknown identities to come. The future is not written yet, and my dream is to help towards a more sustainable future for fashion by implementing technology into historic couture craftsmanship. My dream is to help to shape fashion more intelligently, to empower women, and to deepen the reasoning of creating fashion, to shape fashion into the fields of science, art, architecture, engineering, biology and to focus on sustainable collaboration with nature at the core of each design. I realise this is not a one-year dream, but definitely my ongoing dream for this year also.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

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