November 15, 2019 / Amber Weir

To “Activate” is to completely energize and start something fresh and unique. Within the realm of fashion, there comes the emergence of new technologies, which have redefined how traditional clothes are made, and are creating a greater link between the spheres of modern art and fashion couture. By activating new techniques, such as 3D printing and garment construction, technology designers are able to redefine boundaries and produce movement in clothing that cannot be achieved without utilizing new technology.

Iris Van Herpen creates hi-tech couture and is able to tell mesmerizing stories through her clothing, which is only achievable by activating technology. Herpen uses algorithms, 3D printing, laser-cuts and three dimensional drawings to produce her designs. This new form of fashion is often described as “kinetic couture” because the clothing is able to flow and flutter in abstract ways, creating an entirely new visual experience to the runway. When the silhouette of the couture floats, it moves the audience into an entirely new dimension that no longer feels like planet Earth.

Iris Van Herpen’s runway show “Hypnotize” at the Élysée Montmartre in Paris this year also exhibited couture that was able to hypnotize the audience. They were drawn into different motions of directional movement and patterns throughout the show. Iris Van Herpen worked with Anthony Howe, who creates kinetic sculptures powered by the wind. Howe’s “Omniverse” sculpture was center stage and spiraled in a circular motion. The immersive art further sent the audience into a trance, with the sculpture’s axis spinning on for what seemed an infinite amount of time. Looking at the rotational movement blurred reality, as time no longer seemed to exist.

Van Herpen describes how, “the 'Hypnosis' collection is a hypnotic visualisation of nature’s tapestry, the symbiotic cycles of our biosphere that interweave the air, land, and oceans. It also reflects the ongoing dissection of the rhythms of life and resonates with the fragility within these interwoven worlds.”

The “Hypnotize” show highlights the constant cycle of human life. As the couture flutters in different directions, it creates a rhythm similar to breathing or a heartbeat which are essential to human life. The couture represents “air, land and ocean” and merges these elements together through symbols. The cool tones could represent air, the warm tones could represent land and the rippling motion could reflect the movement of waves in the oceans. These elements in combination are essential to human life and, by weaving them together, Herpen highlights the equal importance of each element - air to breathe, water to hydrate and land to live on. The only constant to the piece was Anthony Howe’s omniverse sculturpe, which the models walked through. The sculpture could act as a metaphor for the Earth and the couture on the model could be symbolic of elements that comprise the Earth. The costumes were delicate, which could represent how we only have one Earth and should respect the elements that make it up, because humans are nothing without the nature that surrounds us.

Herpen based some of her designs on Japanese ‘suminagashi,’ which is also known as “floating ink” because of how it combines marble plain paper with water and ink to create patterns with striking colors. Herpen also laser-printed heat bonders and laser cut material to make wave-like motions in the couture. By activating technology, Herpen is able to produce a narrative through her artwork in a dynamic and modern way. The movement, sounds and visuals in the show reflect naturalism and connect nature with that of life, as well as tells the audience a story of the universe and human experiences.

Herpen’s show, “shift souls,” at  Élysée Montmartre in Paris this year created an ethereal beauty so elegant and exquisite that could never be achieved through traditional means of making clothing. The clothing contained different colours of various warm tones, such as purples, reds, blues, oranges and yellows.  Some models wore 3D printed masks called cellechemacy, which made the models seem mythical and godlike. Again, Herpen makes the audience feel as if they are in a liminal position between Earth and an alternative reality in her shows.

Herpen describes how, “for 'Shift Souls' I looked at the evolution of the human shape, its idealization through time and the hybridization of the female forms within mythology. Especially the imagination and the fluidity within identity change in Japanese mythology gave me the inspiration to explore the deeper meaning of identity and how immaterial and mutable it can become within the current coalescence of our digital bodies.”

In “Shift Souls,” Herpen focuses on the silhouettes of couture. Through varying shapes, lengths and sizes Herpen distorts conventions usually associated with humans to create a hybrid form of human and mythological creatures. The floaty gowns could mirror the fluidity of the “female form” and how there is not one homogenous body outline for all. The movement of the couture also serves to conceal typical human attributes such as limbs creating the illusion of wings. Herpen allows us to imagine where technology could  potentially take us in the future with the creation of hybrid beings.

Iris Van Herpen turned immersive art into wearable couture teaching us the importance of taking risks and activating new ideas. It allows humans to break boundaries and enter a new space which has never been achieved before.  Ultimately, “shift souls” and “hypnotize” contain narratives which tell a story about human life and experience through the movement of couture. Fashion combined with technology is exciting as it expresses stories, enhances silhouettes and transports us temporarily into a new dimension. ■

graphics by: Vivienne Leow

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