Interview with Fashion Designer Iris van Herpen

Interview with Iris van Herpen

By Philippe Pourhashemi

Meeting Iris van Herpen for the first time two years ago is a moment in my life I’ll always cherish. It was a beautiful spring evening in Amsterdam and Iris, my partner and I sat down inside this quiet restaurant, which looked almost like an English pub. With candles burning on the table and subdued lighting, it was weirdly romantic. We ordered pasta and red wine, chatting away and enjoying our food. It was definitely not your usual interview set-up, but then again, there is nothing predictable about this Dutch designer.

We must have talked for hours, losing any notion of time. One thing you need to know about Iris is that she’s living the moment. Her life is in the present, not in the past. It’s right here, right now. This sense of immediacy is something that grabs you in her clothes, making them striking, uncompromising and poetic. When we met in 2010, she was still showing in London and becoming the hot talent to watch. I’m always amazed to see how much students and young designers actually worship her. They will tell you Iris made it. They will say she’s a constant source of inspiration. They will talk about her with love, respect and devotion. Despite being only 27, Iris is already a reference for many figures in the fashion and art worlds. She is recognized and acknowleged by major cultural institutions and icons, such as the Met in New York, Beth Ditto or Björk, who wore one of her customized dresses on the cover of Biophilia. This year, the Groninger Museum showcases her first retrospective in the Netherlands, something she describes as a “huge honour and exciting event.” When you think that designers like Azzedine Alaïa, Viktor & Rolf and Bernhard Willhelm were among the selected few to show there, you realize her work is being taken pretty seriously.

Iris van Herpen is a luminous person. It’s in her smile and intense eyes. It’s in her voice and the way she adresses you when she talks. It’s about how she carries herself around you and the gentle way she walks down the street. There isn’t a single hint of agression or envy in her personality and she comes across as a genuine and peaceful woman. Unlike many of her peers, she is far from being self-obsessed and will listen to people. You feel passion, charisma and conviction in her words. You sense the depth of her imagination and creative brilliance. She’ll come up with the most abstract concept behind a collection and you will find yourself getting into her story, without even noticing it. You’ll let her take you on that journey, because – let’s face it – there isn’t much point resisting. Her designs allow you to travel, pushing the boundaries of your own mind. Iris’ clothes are like fantastic dreams that come to life, or maddening fantasies. They seem to originate from a different planet. There’s something otherwordly and unusual about them. They can be complete experiments, mixing intricate handicraft with the highest technology. Using 3D printing to make dresses is not something she sees as an impossible challenge, even though she will confess that getting is not always easy. Normality doesn’t really apply to her world. It’s an extraordinary place, where sensations are singular and beauty is priceless. Forget revival, retro and rehash. “I’m not scared of the future” is something Iris said to me once. And I believe her. What she makes is new, the product of her own hands, perceptions and abilities. Living in relative isolation – without a Twitter account and carefully avoiding visual overload – van Herpen has chosen to stay naive, protecting her mind from overstimulation.

Last year, she decided to show in Paris and was eventually invited to be part of the official Haute Couture calendar. I remember attending her first show, Escapism, in January 2011. I was feeling nervous for her that day and didn’t even know why. Things were running quite late at the venue and some people in the audience were losing their cool. When the music started, we all entered another world. The excitement was palpable, a rare occurrence within today’s fashion shows. I was elated, on the edge of my seat. I got so emotional I almost cried. I know it sounds ridiculous, but I call this the “Iris Effect.” I cannot really put my finger on it, but it’s this combination of talent, raw aesthetic and confidence. It’s what her clothes do to bodies, too, how they abstract them while making them more present. It’s this combination of sensuality and surrealism. Her creatures are seductive and slightly dangerous, reaching us from another dimension. It’s the completeness of her vision, something that defies logics and conventional thought. That show was a moment of intense pleasure for me, which I’m not ready to forget. Who wouldn’t want to get such an injection of pure beauty? In the space of 15 minutes, she had redefined what haute couture should be: a laboratory for ideas and innovative concepts, a space to make us dream and wonder, a platform for new directions and strong emotions.

There are not enough voices like hers in the industry right now. Fashion has become a marketed commodity, a tool to sell more handbags and shiny nail polish. Iris does not do any of these things, even though she designs great shoes each season with United Nude. Her work is fashion for fashion’s sake, removed from the trend machine and disposable fads. Her approach is timeless, artistic and individual. It adresses the notion of luxury in a contemporary way, removed from any commercial interests. Her clothes are groundbreaking objects that you can wear or simply admire. I like to think of her as the Kate Bush of fashion, which is something that makes her laugh whenever I tell her. She is running up that hill and no one is going to stop her any time soon.

A freelance fashion writer, Philippe Pourhashemi was born in Tehran in 1976 and grew up in Paris, before heading off to Scotland to study Foreign Languages. He has worked as a consultant for several fashion companies in Paris, Berlin and Barcelona. His passions are fashion and culture, as well as music and film. He writes for Blend and Zoo in Amsterdam, Metal in Barcelona, Contributor in Stockholm and WestEast in Hong Kong. Based in Brussels, he’s an editor for The Word where he supervises the style and fashion pages. He also contributes to Diane Pernet’s blog, A Shaded View on Fashion. He is an avid traveller, exploring exotic fashion weeks and destinations whenever he can.

Julia is wearing a cardigan by A.F.VANDEVOORST, dress and belt by ALAIA, belt by GAULTIER, necklace and ring by RAJA, ring and bracelet by BUD TO ROSE, neckpiece by INDEPENDENT and shoes by Kilgren. Photography by Magnus Magnusson, fashion by Oscar Lange, hair by Dejan Cekanovic@LinkDetails, beauty by Sara Denman@LinkDetails, modeling by Julia@Elite Stockholm, fashion assistance by Josefine Forsberg, photography assistance by Ninja Hanna and Dan Sjölund.