"I'm not scared of the future," once said the Dutch fashion designer Iris van Herpen; a declaration that seems something of an understatement after a glance at her avant garde collections that fuse traditional know-how with cutting edge digital technology and which are often compared to contemporary art. Ironically, it is this futuristic vision that sees van Herpen celebrated as the couture designer of the moment at a new exhibition at the International City of Lace and Fashion museum in Calais, France.

At just 29-years-old, van Herpen is the youngest designer on the official schedule of haute couture week in Paris. Since 2011 – before which she graduated from the ArtEZ Institute of the Arts and worked with Alexander McQueen as well as Viktor & Rolf – she has been invited by the prestigious Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture to show alongside the likes of Chanel and Dior in the week that is dedicated as much to craftsmanship as design.

"I've showed couture officially for a few seasons but I don't think my work has changed because of it," says Van Herpen. "For me couture is freedom of creation; the process, the experiment, the research – which is really important for me – and all the collaborations."

The collaborations she refers to are with engineers and artists – anyone who can help her experiment with new materials or production methods. Her spring 2013 couture collection presented in January explored the electricity of the body (focused concepts are another Van Herpen signature), which saw her work with New Zealand artist Carlos Van Camp and Canadian architect Philip Beesley. The flexible 3D printed dresses that were also part of the collection were the result of collaborations with Neri Oxman of the MIT Media Lab as well as Keren Oxman and Professor Craig Carter of MIT with Stratasys, and architect Julia Koerner with Materialise.

At the Calais exhibition of her work, some 30 pieces made between 2008 and 2012 are presented on stands so that they can be seen from each angle. Almost all are dresses and their neo-organic digital forms are from collections based around themes such as molecular structure or electrostatic motion. Exhibited as they are, the work of Iris Van Herpen has never looked so much like sculpture.

“For me fashion is an expression of art that is very close related to me and to my body.
I see it as my expression of identity combined with desire, moods and cultural setting.
In all my work I try to make clear that fashion is an artistic expression, showing and wearing art, and not just a functional and devoid of content or commercial tool. With my work I intend to show that fashion can certainly have an added value to the world, that it can be timeless and that its consumption can be less important then its beginning. Wearing clothing creates an exciting and imperative form of self-expression. 'Form follows function' is not a slogan with which I concur. On the contrary, I find that forms complement and change the body and thus the emotion. Movement, so essential to and in the body, is just as important in my work. By bringing form, structure and materials together in a new manner, I try to suggest and realize optimal tension and movement.”
- Iris Van Herpen

Iris van Herpen
Calais International City of Lace and Fashion
15 June to 31 December 2013
135, Quai du Commerce 62100 Calais
+33 3 21 00 42 30