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Iris van Herpen commented backstage during her fall 2023 couture presentation, which explored advancements in aquatic architecture, “I come from the Netherlands, and we are below sea level.” She was referring to her home country of the Netherlands. “It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot,” she said, detailing her vision of a (perhaps not too distant) future in which people will live in both land and aquatic settings. “It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot,” she said.


The picture that Van Herpen has for a future in which humans have hybridised with aquatic life is mesmerising and appealing, yet it does not appear to be wholly imaginative or speculative. If we are to measure the current condition of our continuing climate emergency based on its current state, it is not unthinkable to envision a future in which nations such as the Netherlands would be largely immersed in water. But rather than ignoring the effects of climate change and producing more items that will be thrown away in landfills, as the fashion industry typically does, Van Herpen continues to look forward. What will the appearance of our brand new world be like? How will we modify ourselves?


Van Herpen investigated urban design that looked to the future as a way to connect with the existential questions she was pondering. The architect said that there is a brand new metropolis in the process of being constructed in South Korea and that it is named Oceanix. “It’s a remarkable piece of innovation that also helps preserve the natural environment.” Oceanix is being dubbed the “first floating city” due to the fact that it is now in the process of being constructed as a consequence of a new wave of aquatic urbanism planned by architect Bjarke Ingels. The idea for the city incorporates zero waste and circular systems, and it takes into account the recovery of the coastal environment. It is anticipated that it will be built by the year 2025.


This forward-thinking approach to architectural design is applicable to Van Herpen’s ever-increasing preoccupation with the future and new developments. In this particular instance, the ideas of fluidity, fragmentation, and shifting patterns from this wave of design were brought into play in the couture created by the designer. Van Herpen highlighted her motivation for the design by saying, “I wanted to bring the structural element of architecture in a very fluid way.” “I wanted the garments to be able to live, move, and breathe.” There were spectacular bursting clothes with shards sprouting in all directions, as well as dresses cut tight to the body and pieced together with laser cut parts fused onto mesh bodices, as is anticipated chez IVH. However, the paintings in which Van Herpen successfully combined her flair for creativity with her eye for tradition were the most engaging to see: Deftly draped organza and pleated metallic materials swirled like ocean waves crashing over her sculptural, but this time flexible, bodices. These fabrics had a liquid-like appearance.


Van Herpen drew her inspiration for this season’s collection from the way in which architects utilise the notion of bionic architecture to investigate the way in which biological systems react to stimuli and adapt to their surroundings. Bionic architecture is defined as the practice of constructing architecture that coexists happily between nature and society. She imagines a future in which people will be able to adjust to the shifting conditions of our environment and will build homes and communities that are completely self-sufficient. Her haute couture, which she presented this time around, portrayed a visual paradigm of what our future would be like. However, what does the application of this principle look like? Construction has begun on the visual language. The challenge going forward, not only for Iris Van Herpen but for everyone else as well, will be to continue to deliver innovative and useful solutions despite being pushed to evolve. Is it possible for couture to become bionic and independent? Would it ever be possible for our clothing to react to changes in the environment in the same way that our bodies would have to in the future? My only contribution is a list of questions, but I have faith that Van Herpen, whose enthusiasm for the future remains one of her greatest gifts, will come up with some answers.

The Collection

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