PARIS, France — On entering the École de Médicine on the Left Bank of Paris, guests of the Iris Van Herpen show were greeted by a living installation. Actress Gwendoline Christie was laying on a marble pedestal as three giant "arms" — more organic than mechanical — produced an intricate latticework over her body. "It felt primitive to lie still in a room full of people, to put oneself in the position of being the focus of attention but not engaging. Are you a sacrifice or a participant?" she said. The latticework was actually a dress.
Welcome to Van Herpen's art-fashion realm, a place of captivating alchemies and science-cum-magic hybrids translating into sculpted, utterly feminine dresses worn with out-of-this-world platforms. For Van Herpen, conceptual does not mean punitive or unflattering.
This season, the designer worked off a nature-meets-architecture theme. She carved dresses using — so the press notes said — new patternmaking techniques inspired by the living root bridges of India (made from the aerial roots of living banyan trees). This, married with a pale and gentle colour palette, and flowing shapes, made for a newfound lightness, which is always welcome. However, despite her intricate and innovative techniques, the result of the designer's process is never that innovative in terms of silhouettes.
It would be interesting, at this point, to see Van Herpen expand her reach and test a wider vocabulary of shapes — even a warmer aesthetic. And, maybe, ditch those theatrical platforms along the way.