Many, many months ago, we attended an event where a strange box (now known to us as a MakerBot) produced a blue bracelet out of what is called filament. The bracelet was ugly and is not something we’d ever wear, but the concept was quite amazing. In a relatively short amount of time, this printer communicates with a computer and creates a model or real world product literally from the ground up. Fast-forward to present day and peoples’ imaginations have already taken 3D printing to a number of places. One such place is fashion, and the results are actually, well … desirable. Dutch designer Iris van Herpen, who shows her collections in Paris, comes to mind instantly. She has managed to expel the notion that all wearable tech is nerdy, ugly and downright weird.
As Robin Givhan wrote for the Washington Post recently, “van Herpen is only 31, and many people would argue that she is the most technologically astute and adventurous designer working today.” Givhan’s article, entitled “Iris van Herpen’s astonishing designs don’t look like ‘clothes.’ They look like the future,” makes a very valid point. For instance, van Herpen’s 3D printed skeleton dress looks more like the future than it does an actual dress. However, we must note that van Herpen is one of the first (and only) people making 3D printing seem even remotely high fashion.
A bit about van Herpen: She studied Fashion Design at Artez Institute of the Arts Arnhem, and interned at Alexander McQueen in London, and Claudy Jongstra in Amsterdam, before launching her eponymous label in 2007, which she says “stands for a reciprocity between craftsmanship and innovation in technique and materials.” She has been described, or maybe more aptly put, praised for her work, most of which is known for the inclusion of 3D printing, and her vision. She is described by critics as having “a unique approach and a wealth of new ideas,” according to Jo-Ann Furniss. Suzy Menkes stated that she has “the most sci-fi sartorial vision” and is a “hyper-original designer.” Despite the outlandish nature for which she is known, the New York Times’s Vanessa Fridman has held that “van Herpen's vision is nevertheless, well — grounded, in very good clothes.” One such example: “News flash! Iris van Herpen makes a normal lace shirtdress,” a tweet from Friedman during van Herpen’s October 2015 show.
That last bit is maybe the most important of all. We know that Van Herpen has a very impressive and sophisticated vision, one that very well may mirror that of the late Alexander McQueen to some extent. Moreover, her level of skill in terms of innovation and marrying fashion and technology is not really up for debate; we know she’s good at that. So, let’s focus our attention on something else: how she has managed to debunk the overwhelming belief that 3D printing does not yield results that fashion fans will actually want to wear and thus, will actually want to buy.
And this is the real kicker: She makes it look good. “It” being the designs that go down her runway each season. Yes, the skeleton dresses that went down the runway in July 2011 are extreme and probably not the best example of this, nor are the dresses covered in porcupine-like spikes that she showed in her Spring 2013 couture collection. But the silicone 3-D-printed mini-dresses that she showed for F/W 2014 are another story, as are the black patent leather laser-cut pieces for S/S 2015, the rock-crystal formation shoes for F/W 2015, and S/S 2016 laser-cut fishnet gowns, which appeared to have been made from a weightless silver-hued metal. The dresses constructed from the flexible 3D printed “fabrics” that van Herpen consistently employs also prove to be both utterly innovative and perfectly covetable.
In short, the young designer has managed to put nearly all 3D printed garments and certainly all of the tech-infused accessories to shame, simply by embracing her position in the upper echelon of fashion and not letting that take a backseat in favor of difficult looking garments or accessories that lose their fashion mystique due to technical concerns. Because, honestly, when was the last time you were actually tempted to buy any of those things?
* This article is based in part on one formerly published by Jennifer Williams.