Iris van Herpen, Autumn/Winter 2016-17
After a week of haute couture in three separate cities — Paris, Rome and Naples — hich designer genuinely broke new ground? High fashion remains mostly a traditional affair with the "petites mains" ("little hands") creating extraordinary clothes - but ones that are all in the same artistic realm. The fundamentals are fine fabrics, clever creations and exceptional embellishment.
Nagaya kept up a steady wave of sound as the models walked down the catwalk
In all that re-invention, there is only one true original: Iris van Herpen. Geometric shapes on paper-light fabrics, with the clothes shown in an arena of Japanese calm, do not sound like a dramatic fashion innovation. Yet Iris is the one designer who brings something to haute couture that is genuinely inventive.
Pearl-coated rubber fabric was stitched onto tulle to create "fossil and floral" layering
Detail of the woven rubberised fabric
"Revolution is a big word," said the Dutch designer when I used that description for her work. "It's about the visualisation of sound," she explained.
As the "omm" chant reverberated around the room, musician Kazuya Nagaya worked with Iris to create "seijaku" — the Japanese word for calm amid chaos.
A Zen bowl sound installation set the scene for a gentle exploration of "cymatics" —the ability to visualise sound waves as geometric patterns.
Radiolaria halter dress in iridescent pearl-coated, laser-cut fabric stretched through black wire
This was the first time that I had seen Iris produce something so light and relatively simple in her couture, give or take one dress made from over 1,000 hand-blown glass bubbles coated in silicone to create a luminous aura. Unfortunately, the weight of the dress overwhelmed the model, who had to leave the plinth she was standing on and retire from the presentation.
Yet the significance of the designer's work is that it has become increasingly comprehensive — at least visually. I found it difficult to grasp how a laser-cut dress stitched on to black tulle kept its rhythmic silhouette; or how what looked like a heaving nest of vipers was actually made from an iridescent pearl-coated fabric stitched on to cotton and tulle. Yet this all seemed relatively simple and wearable compared with some of the designer's past experiments.
Detail of a dress made from hand-blown glass bubbles to create what van Herpen called a "bioluminescent prism"
Detail of the bubble dress
The key factor was the lightness: what Iris called "ethereal" dresses, using a 3D technique on line-printed organza layered with transparent tulle. They were relatively simple and indisputably wearable - especially compared to other pieces requiring months of work that Iris has shown previously.
On this slip dress, Iris silicone-coated tens of thousands of Swarovski water-drop crystals to create the effect of wet skin covered in dew drops
This lightness of being made this van Herpen collection seem easier to grasp both intellectually and physically, marking another step forward to a fashion future that looks increasingly like now.
H and-plisséed and line-printed Japanese organza (woven from threads five times thinner than human hair) create unique "Cymatic" patterns