Iris van Herpen Introduces Fashionable Innovation at the Dallas Museum of Art

Dallas loves fashion and innovation, making the city the perfect summer home for Iris van Herpen: Transforming Fashion, the haute couture touring exhibition at the Dallas Museum of Art.

The exhibition, organized by the High Museum of Art in Atlanta and Groninger Museum in the Netherlands, features 43 inventive outfits from 15 of the Dutch designer’s collections.

Iris van Herpen is a dynamic pioneer of the fashion world whose use of unusual materials and cutting edge technology have drawn the admiration of Lady Gaga, Beyonce and Björk.

“Her work has made me look at the larger world and its structures, the structures of space and structures of time, where are we, when are we and why are we here – the big questions – and how design has the tools to answer those questions,” Samantha Robinson, the former Interim Assistant Curator of Decorative Arts and Design at the Dallas Museum of Art, said.

The exhibition covers seven years of van Herpen’s career, organized chronologically with three pieces from each collection.

Visitors can view a video of a runway show to get a sense of how the works move, but patrons are encouraged to take time to look at each outfit as a piece of art.

“We view this work as sculpture. And so the goal is that you can always see it in-the-round. It is conceived in-the-round, made in-the-round,” Sarah Schleuning, Curator of Decorative Arts and Design at High Museum of Art, said.

Robinson suggests people will need to visit this exhibition more than once to fully appreciate van Herpen’s craftsmanship.

“The exhibition was designed intentionally to honor her vision. It is dark. It is womb-like. It is circular. It is cool. It’s meant to transform,” Robinson said.

Van Herpen’s materials are her most important tools.

“I don’t draw in my work so I always start with the materials and then I drape directly on the mannequin. The material is always the starting point,” van Herpen said. “I like exploring materials until I have reached its boundaries.”

For one of her earliest works, Chemical Crows, van Herpen took apart over 700 umbrellas and combined the umbrella ribs with industrial boat yarns, cow-leather and metal eyelets to create a collar and skirt. [[424112944, C]]

She used untreated woven metal gauze to create a dramatic dress, Refinery Smoke.

“When I made the dress, it was actually quite silver. But I chose not to treat the material and keep it as it is so it is changing color all the time as it interacts with the air,” van Herpen said.

The female body is her canvas. “Her muse is not an individual. Her muse is the body, the female body. I think she is always looking for the in-between spaces, the peripheral spaces, the gaps or the spaces that cannot be explained, the processes that we think we have explained but we don’t, and she is trying to explain them,” Robinson said.

Van Herpen embraces new technologies and regularly collaborates with artists, architects and manufactures to achieve her vision.

She created the first 3-D piece to walk the runway and experimented with multiple materials to create a dress that mimics water. As 3-D technology advanced, she used those developments to revisit the idea of water with the dress, Magnetic Motion.

“I went away from water in its fluid form, but more in the form of ice,” van Herpen said. “What I find is the beauty of the dress is that it sort of melds with the skin of the person that is wearing it. When you wear it, the color of the skin comes through the transparency of the material and it is very difficult to see where the body starts and where the dress starts. It comes together in a beautiful way.”

Feminine imagination is the key to understanding van Herpen’s creative and transformative power.

“If you are a woman, you have to imagine yourself wearing the clothes, how it would fit on your body, how it would move, how it would flow, where it would hug you, where it would protrude from your body. She is exposing the body, she’s always hugging the body. When she’s not doing those two things, she’s concealing the body or protruding from the body. She’s doing it intentionally to provide the woman with the tools and the weapons to transform a man’s world into a woman’s world,” Robinson said.

Van Herpen’s work is meant to inspire, provoke and engage.

“Her work is the lit match and what she does is she is tossing it into a collection of sticks and fibers and she is allowing it to burn,” Robinson said. “And she is stepping back.”

Iris van Herpen: Transforming Fashion will be on display at the Dallas Museum of Art through August 20, 2017.


Kimberly Richard is a North Texan with a passion for the arts. She’s worked with Theatre Three, Inc. and interned for the English National Opera and Royal Shakespeare Company. She graduated from Austin College and currently lives in Garland with her very pampered cocker spaniel, Tessa.

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