“Sculpting the Senses” Exhibition – Immersed in the “Wonderland” of the “Sorceress” Iris van Herpen

"Sculpting the Senses" Exhibition - Immersed in the "Wonderland" of the "Sorceress" Iris van Herpen

Running from November 29th until April 28th, 2024, at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs museum in France, the exhibition “Iris van Herpen: Sculpting the Senses” promises to be a “wonderland” that any fashion enthusiast would want to step into to admire over 100 masterpieces created by the Dutch designer.

"Sculpting the Senses" Exhibition - Immersed in the "Wonderland" of the "Sorceress" Iris van Herpen
“Sculpting the Senses” Exhibition – Immersed in the “Wonderland” of the “Sorceress” Iris van Herpen

In 2018, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs museum in Paris acquired the first 3D-printed dress in the history of fashion. This historical milestone served as a catalyst for a special retrospective on the illustrious and intriguing fashion career of Iris van Herpens, organized as an impressive exhibition featuring 100 meticulously crafted masterpieces born from the skilled hands and visionary mind of the Dutch designer. “Iris van Herpen: Sculpting the Senses” revolves around nine themes deeply embedded in the creative language of the female designer, including water, elements constituting life, the human skeleton, and Iris’s fresh perspectives in her latest designs from the “Carte Blanche” collection. Each room corresponding to each theme is meticulously staged by Nathalie Crinière, ensuring that visitors, upon entering the exhibition, will marvel at the raw walls and even be intrigued by a simple cabinet.

Occupying the “Christine & Stephen Schwarzman” Exhibition Room of the museum – where similar retrospectives on the “legends” Schiaparelli and Mugler were held, Iris van Herpen’s new exhibition is like a microcosm of her universe, summarizing the 16-year creative journey drawn from ancient seashell structures to groundbreaking new technologies applied to the fashion industry. For attendees, the space dedicated to these masterpieces feels like the most dreamlike wonderland in the fashion world, where they will undergo various sensory experiences – from awe-inspiring visual spectacles to experimenting with Iris’s innovative and luxurious materials, and even indulging in astonishing auditory experiences from the background music composed by Salvador Breed. Although Iris’s fashion career has been revisited at numerous exhibitions worldwide, such as the High Museum of Art in Atlanta and the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, the latest event at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs truly marks the designer’s first major showcase. It signifies the first time her technical achievements are publicly displayed for a broader audience to appreciate and perceive in a unique way, shedding light on her creative process, the selection of tools to complement artistic approaches, and her rich imagination.

From micro to macro, the exhibition raises questions about the position of the human body when placed in space, its relationship with clothing and the environment, as well as its future in a rapidly changing world. Featuring over a hundred haute couture fashion pieces, this exhibition is a dialogue between Iris van Herpen and contemporary art pieces by artists such as Philip Beesley, Collectif Mé, Wim Delvoye, Kate MccGwire, Damien Jalet, Kohei Nawa, Casey Curran, Rogan Borwn, Jacques Rougerie, and design works by Neri Oxman, Ren Ri, Ferruccio Laviani, and Tomáš Libertíny. Moreover, they are juxtaposed with pieces from the field of natural sciences, such as skeletons and fossils. Together, they create a unique convergence of fashion, nature, science, and history, unfolding like a new horizon for the future of fashion. As shared, the purpose of this new exhibition is not only about the dazzling beauty of imaginative fashion designs but also about exploring its relationship with both science and nature. Iris van Herpen is more than just a fashion designer. “Iris is not just a fashion designer,” Cloé Pitiot, the museum’s curator, shared. “She has often allowed her fashion thinking to collaborate with various artists, architects, designers, and historians, to expand the boundaries of traditional fashion. Iris is deeply concerned about our planet and its future; for her, fashion is not just about looking good but also carries many meaningful messages. And I think it’s important for the public to know how open-minded a fashion designer can be towards humanity.”

“My design process is extremely pure and simple in that it can go from the darkest moments to the most beautiful, dreamy, and hopeful moments. I think that’s present in the exhibition, where I really feel people can get very close to my true self,” Iris shared about the new exhibition. And it all begins with a room titled “Water and Dreams” – delving deeply into the designer’s eternal love and passion for water, the source of life. Dresses inside are surrounded by PetG snake trails, mimicking flowing water; organza vapor waves; and long undulating dresses draped over mannequins as if made of transparent liquid. “I think most of my work is about mesmerizing sensations – an illusion,” and water has helped Iris achieve that. Her latest collection, titled “Carte Blanche,” is also showcased in this space. Water is also addressed on a grand scale of the ocean with artificial waves realized by Collectif Mé. Additionally, a special space revealing the unseen natural environment, depicted in 19th-century illustrations by Ernst Haeckel or in notable glass models by Léopold and Rudolf Blaschka, is unveiled. Ren Ri and Tomáš Libertíny’s works, created by bees, contrast with Rogan Brown’s delicate paper works also found in specific rooms.

The theme of the skeleton is introduced by the Skeleton dress, reminiscent of a hybrid skeleton in a work by Japanese artist Heishiro Ishino. The body becomes the main creative theme in a haunting dress – a metaphor for a Gothic-style cathedral, as well as a Gothic-style wardrobe by Ferruccio Laviani, and a documentary film by Yann Arthus-Bertrand and Michael Pitiot called “Terra.” Next, viewers are invited to leave the physical realm dedicated to the magical beauty of the body to explore the sensory world through photos by Tim Walker, as well as a sculpture by Matthew Harrison. Finally, the dark myths surrounding the medusa theme created by Phillip Beesley meet the works of Kate McCGwire, EcoLogicStudio, and a Samurai armor set.

The most recent designs exhibited in the exhibition are custom dresses for Beyoncé – the dresses that the singer wore during the “Renaissance” World Tour. Iris Van Herpen expressed her excitement: “I feel truly honored to become part of Beyoncé’s new era and to express her vision through my distinctive designs. Of course, her personality is very strong and sharp, but I also want to bring elegance to my work.” From there, Iris’s dress made Queen B shine on stage like a resilient warrior, invincible yet still attracting every gaze with the soft, seductive beauty of femininity. The dress worn by the singer Grimes at the Met Gala 2021 is framed by a large window overlooking the soaring walkway in the museum. From here, visitors ascend the spiral staircase, with adjacent walls serving as a “stage” for a mosaic of moments where other stars shone in their dresses. Dresses worn by Björk and Lady Gaga are also displayed.

Visitors continue to explore Iris’s wonderland in a studio space displaying samples of materials representing various levels of craftsmanship, from beautiful geometric embroideries to feather-like decorations, meticulously painted fabrics resembling butterfly wings, veined

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