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Haute Couture Created Under a Microscope – That’s Iris van Herpen

Haute Couture Created Under a Microscope – That’s Iris van Herpen

Welcome to The Director’s Cut, an interactive column featuring fashion, beauty and career advice from RGNN Director and Founder, @isabelevabohrer.

You know you’re in for a treat when there’s a microscope at a fashion exhibit. In fact, not one microscope, but three. Case in point: “Iris van Herpen. Sculpting the Senses,” the exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.

In its 140-year history, this is the first time this prestigious museum has dedicated a show to a single designer. And I am not surprised.

Originally from the Netherlands, Iris van Herpen is well-known for her haute couture designs, which combine the pillars of her vision: nature, art, science, architecture, and dance. You’ll find dresses inspired by anything from brain neurons to lucid dreaming and sensory sea life, created with innovative materials, often in 3D. The exhibit documents just that – and more.

“Geodesic Dome” dress from the 2016 “Lucid” collection, inspired by lucid dreaming. Designed in collaboration with Philip Beesley, this dress is made of laser cut acrylic hexagonal segments, connected to each other with tubes of silicon to create geodesic domes. The crystalline micro-architecture rests on a black cotton dress, revealing through contrast the complexity of the creative process | Photo credit:
On the left, a dress from the 2013 “Voltage” collection, inspired by the unpredictable quality of electricity and composed of a complex assemblage of mirror Mylar triangles, arranged in order to reflect ambient light. See it in movement and it produces a surprising geometric and sensorial experience | Photo credit:
“Sensorama” dress, made of hand-worked, hand polished brass, recalling the geometric and fractal patterns around in kiribati, the Japanese art of folding and cutting | Photo credit:

Across two floors, a multi-sensory experience takes you through more than one hundred of her haute couture creations, displayed next to contemporary art works as well as scientific objects, such as skeletons and fossils. As such, artists represented in the exhibition include Philip Beesley, the Collectif Mé, Wim Delvoye, Kate MccGwire, Damien Jalet, Kohei Nawa, Casey Curran, Rogan Borwn, Jacques Rougerie and design pieces by Neri Oxman, Ren Ri, Ferruccio Lavini and Tomáš Libertíny.

Just an example to give you an idea: van Herpen’s “Dichotomy” robe from her 2019 “Hypnosis” collection, which creates an optical illusion with print motifs inspired by Suminagashi, a Japanese marble ink drawing technique, is placed side-by-side with Ferruccio Lavini’s “Good Vibrations Cabinet” (2013), which equally plays with visual trickeries and lack of focus, questioning, with humor, the very history of furniture.

On the left, van Herpen’s “Dichotomy” robe from her 2019 “Hypnosis” collection and on the right, Ferruccio Lavini’s “Good Vibrations Cabinet” (2013) | Photo credit:

It is this constant dialogue that characterizes van Herpen’s work, and the exhibition as a whole. In fact, the mise-en-scène was coordinated not only by a traditional curator, – Cloé Pitiot and assistant curator Louise Curtis, – but also included scenography specialists, specifically Studio Nathalie Crinière, known for working on projects such as the Galerie Dior. “We make dreams” is the studio’s Instagram slogan. And because I mentioned it’s a multi-sensory experience, a special note on the audio; Salvador Breed, Ms. van Herpen’s partner, composed a soundtrack for each of the different “scenes” in the exhibition.

The list of Iris van Herpen’s famous clientele just goes on and on… | Photo credit:

No wonder so many celebrities love her designs. As you walk up the stairs to the second floor of the exhibition, there’s an entire wall of photos; Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Jennifer Lopez, Gigi Hadid, Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johannson…the list of her clientele goes on and on. Take “Heliosphere,” a custom dress made for Beyoncé for her 2023 Renaissance tour, for example. It took twelve people and just under 700 hours to make…Swarovski crystals included.

On the left, “Heliosphere,” a custom dress made for Beyoncé for her 2023 Renaissance tour | Photo credit:
A moment for that Beyoncé dress (spot her rocking it in the background!) | Video credit:

The second floor is also where you can delve deeper into van Herpen’s creative process. In a room titled “The Atelier,” you’ll find said microscopes, as well as sketches and entire walls covered in the materials the Maison uses; “embroideries, delicate plissé foldings, silicone moldings, kinetic textures, layering of lasercut drawings with a wide selection of materials used for 3D printing and other digital methods,” to quote van Herpen herself.

Microscope used by Iris van Herpen | Photo credit:

If that weren’t enough to convince you of her talent, the adjacent room is a “Cabinet of Curiosities,” objects, organized like an encyclopedia. You’ll find insects here alongside her shoe creations, equally out of this world.

Iris van Herpen’s shoe designs, on display in the “Cabinet of Curiosities” | Photo credit:

Haute couture has always incited viewers (and wearers) to dream, and van Herpen’s endlessly creativity takes this to the next level. As does the exhibition, challenging the traditional fashion exhibition format. Instead of conventional museum benches, you’ll find bean bags for visitors to rest on. With windblowing machines lightly swaying some dresses back and forth, you can’t forget what you have just sensed, looked at, magnified, listened to, and even touched. That’s Iris van Herpen’s sketchbooks, for example, which, unlike at other exhibitions, you can flip through.

You can flip through Iris van Herpen’s sketchbooks at the exhibition | Photo credit:

In the final exhibition room, mannequins are hung upside down and sideways, a galactic feel so in tune with van Herpen’s futuristic worldview, exploring the position of fashion and the body with the growing presence of virtual reality. It’s haute couture, rooted in science and concocted with fantastic dreams, connected and not connected to the Earth. Mesmerizing.

Mannequins hanging upside down and sideways in the final exhibition room | Photo credit:

The exhibition will be on view in Paris until April 28, 2024, with plans to travel to Brisbane, Australia; Singapore; Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and possibly the United States.

Plan your visit

Musée des Arts Décoratifs.

  • 107 Rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris, France.
  • Tuesday through Sunday, 11.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m. Thursdays until 9.00 p.m.
  • Closed on Mondays.
  • Purchase tickets online here (highly recommended to do so in advance to avoid long queues at the museum!)
  • More information:
À bientôt! | Video credit:

Thank you to Iris van Herpen and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs for inviting us.

Questions or comments? Follow me on IG @isabelevabohrer or TikTok and say hi! See you soon!

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