Iris van Herpen Uses 3D Printing to Merge Fashion and Contemporary Art

Published on December 15, 2023 by Madeleine P.
Iris van Herpen

Since November 29, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris has been hosting a new exhibition dedicated to the work of designer Iris van Herpen. Recently, our team was lucky enough to visit it and learn more about the hundreds of collection pieces on display, from haute couture dresses to accessories, including a glimpse into the Dutch designer’s working laboratory. These included those made using additive manufacturing technologies.

Indeed, the core of Iris van Herpen’s work is that she uses new technologies and combines them with more traditional methods to create incredible works of art. And yes, we don’t mean to say fashion show, her designs can truly be considered work of arts, as shown in this latest exhibit. Sculpting the Senses is a journey through the artist’s sources of inspiration, showcasing all his talent and genius – not forgetting how 3D printing can impact the fashion industry.

More than 100 dresses are on display in the Irish van Herpen exhibit

The exhibition is divided into 11 different rooms and follows a precise path, going from the micro- to macro-level as it ends with the theme of space exploration. Iris van Herpen is an artist who has been particularly influenced by nature, science and literature. She is one of the few designers to combine digital technologies and craft techniques, all without going through the drawing stage. Rather than starting with her pencil to paper, she always starts with a material and studies it from every angle to imagine a new dress or accessory.

The Sculpting the Senses exhibition features around 100 of her dresses and 40 accessories, including pieces worn by celebrities such as Shakira, Beyoncé, Natalie Portman and Lady Gaga. Not all these pieces are 3D printed, but they all incorporate a strong technological dimension and are marked by a collaboration with another artist, be it a painter, sculptor, author or sound designer.

A stroll through the exhibition rooms quickly reveals the designer’s artistic potential. She brilliantly mixes materials, colors and inspirations to give life to unique dresses with surprising shapes. Among the garments designed using additive manufacturing are the Hybrid Holism dress, produced using stereolithography; the Foliage dress, made using PolyJet; and the Cathedral, a piece printed using SLS 3D printing. The designer works closely with Materialise to produce her dresses. In fact, one of her pieces, Futurama, was 3D printed using the Belgian company’s Bluesint PA 12 powder.

Each time, the use of 3D printing has enabled her to imagine new shapes, movements to Iris van Herpen’s creations or material combinations that would not otherwise have been possible. It’s worth noting that she frequently combines additive manufacturing with another technique, such as electroplating, which enables her to add a layer of metal – silver or copper, depending on the dress – to the garment. This enables her to achieve the desired effect and overcome some of the limitations of 3D printing – for example, the color of SLS powders.

The Skeleton dress

Of particular note is the “Skeleton Incarnate” room, featuring her Skeleton dress, 3D printed on an SLS machine using polyamide. Iris van Herpen, fascinated by the living, human anatomy and morphogenesis, has imagined a collection that focuses on muscles, tissues and bones. The result is a dress that resembles an exoskeleton, with its intricate, detailed and original forms. The artist breathes new life into the silhouette, focusing in particular on the connections between nature and the human form.

Last but not least, we really enjoyed her workshop, an area of the exhibition featuring hundreds of material samples, projects with other artists and more. It allowed us to fully immerse ourselves in the Dutch designer’s career and understand a little more about her way of working. We realize that she doesn’t follow the rules and codes of fashion; for example, she doesn’t design her dresses or garments at all. As mentioned above, she starts with a material and imagines shapes, movements and, combined with technologies – including 3D printing – she creates.

In conclusion, Iris van Herpen’s exhibition is very complete and dedicated to this reflection on contemporary art rather than fashion. Not everything is 3D-printed, but there are enough pieces on show to appreciate the place of new technologies in the artist’s work. We’re not going to lie to you, some of the spaces are rather surprising, even eccentric, but the visit is well worth the detour if you’re passing through Paris! The exhibition runs until April 28, 2024. You can find all Iris van Herpen’s collections on her website HERE.

The Iris van Herpen’s workshop includes several samples of materials

What do you think of the Iris van Herpen exhibition? Will you stop by if you get the opportunity to be in Paris before the end of April 2024? Let us know in a comment below or on our LinkedinFacebook, and Twitter pages! Don’t forget to sign up for our free weekly Newsletter here, the latest 3D printing news straight to your inbox! You can also find all our videos on our YouTube channel.

*All Photo Credits: 3Dnatives

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