Haute couture designer, Iris van Herpen: ‘I’m working with scientists, biologists, architects and artists to improve the way I make fashion’

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Haute couture designer Iris Van Herpen opens up about her life, work and fashion

We chat to Iris Van Herpen, the Dutch fashion visionary regarded as one of the industry’s most forward thinking creators

PARIS, FRANCE - JANUARY 20: A model walks the runw
A model walks the runway during the Iris Van Herpen Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2020 show as part of Paris Fashion Week. (Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images).

A model walks the runway during the Iris Van Herpen Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2020 show as part of Paris Fashion Week. (Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images).She’s the Dutch fashion visionary regarded as one of the industry’s most forward thinking creators, and only one of 10 designers who can call their brand haute couture.

Iris van Herpen was awarded a lifetime achievement at Arab Fashion Week in Dubai. This is an interview she had with Euronews journalist, Jane Witherspoon.

JW: Why is this industry an important part of life?

IVH: I think it creates our identity. I really see fashion as a laboratory of our identity and I think fashion should inspire [us] to create ourselves. I think it’s a really big part of our culture, it’s who we are and what we stand for – it expresses so much language that is unspoken. I think you can directly communicate to each other your values and your way of looking at life [in] deciding what you wear. I think that’s a really powerful message.

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IVH: In my perception it’s a form of art. I think couture is the art of fashion and it’s innovative and collaborative, I really like working with other disciplines to really share knowledge, to make fashion more intellectual, to embrace all the different sides of society into one medium.

READ MORE: These asymmetrical ensembles deliver some much-needed fashion inspo, courtesy of Nomzamo, Zoe and Mihlali 

SEVILLE, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 03: Leomie Anderson atte

Leomie Anderson wears Iris van Herpen at the 2019 MTV EMAs (Photo by Stephane Cardinale – Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)

JW: How have you seen the industry change and grow over the years since you got into it?

IVH: I think it’s a very exciting time that we live in. Fashion is becoming much more inclusive, open-minded, democratic, diverse and sustainable – which is really important as well. Especially on the sustainability side, a lot needs to happen still.

JW: How do you embrace sustainability within your craftsmanship?

IVH: Well, I’m focused on haute couture, which I think is already the base for sustainability because you only create on demand and you’re not part of a waste-based system. Next to that I’m working together with scientists, biologists, architects and artists to improve the way I make fashion. So the techniques are being reinvented and also the materials we are often creating it ourselves, trying to reduce the footprint.

JW: As a business woman, how challenging has it been for you to get your brand up and off the ground?

IVH: Well it has been a challenge and I think it’s not always easy anyway to start up a brand but also being a woman, of course, it’s a bigger challenge. I really like working in a female team – most of my company is female, so that’s my little message to the world that there are so many amazing women to work with [and] I like bringing that into my company.

JW: Do you think the gender balance issue still needs to be addressed within the industry? What have you experienced first hand?

IVH: Yes, absolutely. It’s still male driven, especially within the top level, and I think that’s something that really needs to become more democratic. Of course [there’s] a difference between countries, but if you look globally [there’s] still difference, and I think we should all try to change that within our direct environment. If we all do that, we make a big step.

BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 05: Joey King

BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 05: Joey King attends the 77th Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 05, 2020 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)

READ MORE: Giambattista Valli combines fashion and art to bring the public closer to “the language of haute couture” 

JW: When do you think fashion becomes political, because I know especially in your home country in the Netherlands they’ve just introduced the ban on the burqas and anything covering the face, they’re following on from Paris that has done the same thing a couple of years ago. What do you make of that?

IVH: I find it so difficult. My own label is not meant to express any political messages because I feel there is too much to say and I want to… and in the end it’s all very temporary and within my own label I try to create things that are much more timeless. I really like looking at my work from a birdseye perspective.

JW: As a person though do you have any views on that someone should be dictating, really, where you can and cannot wear something?

IVH: No, no. My work is all about freedom and I think we should all be able to express ourselves the way we feel, to be able to express our own identity and to be creative in that. I think anybody should be able to wear what they want.

JW: What do you think about gender-neutral status?

IVH: I think it’s a good thing but I think also we want to embrace genders, I think there’s a lot of beauty in femininity and masculinity. I think it’s a great thing that there’s also more options for gender neutral but I think it’s becoming a different alternative.

READ MORE: Roses are red, Pantone’s 2020 colour of the year is Classic Blue, and so should everything in your wardrobe 

PARIS, FRANCE - JULY 01: Singer Celine Dion is see

PARIS, FRANCE – JULY 01: Singer Celine Dion is seen on July 01, 2019 in Paris, France. (Photo by Marc Piasecki/GC Images)

JW: If you could go back in time and give your younger self one piece of advice, what would that be?

IVH: So many! I made so many mistakes in my life. I was quite naive when I started, I was focused purely on creative, which is a good thing, but obviously running a label is also running a business. I could’ve used more help on the business side at the beginning.

JW: Am I right in thinking you’re only one of 10 people who can legitimately say that you’re haute couture?

IVH: Yeah. And I think I was also the youngest one.

JW:  What advice would you give to the next generation of designers coming through the ranks.

IVH: I really want to give the advice to not forget about craftsmanship and innovation because that’s the root of fashion. Craftsmanship has always been about innovation. But I think in this moment we very much live in a street wear focused culture but a lot of the knowledge within fashion-making, like the pattern-making example is one of them. But also to the question of craftsmanship, it’s not being taught at schools anymore and you’re going to miss out within your career if you only have one tool. 

Compiled by Phelokazi Mbude

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