Where to begin.
As a case study, van Herpen's latest collection not only illustrates a sophisticated understanding of material performance, but a deep-routed, narrative imagination. The theme of her collection formally marries an eclectic mix of stories, myths and ages: weeping willows sweep alongside hieroglyphics-inspired alien silhouettes; subtle palettes of ancient gold and treasure are juxtaposed between suggestive futuristic materials and post natural states of hybrid medusa transformations. The way these pieces move and sound with the model only add to the performative nature of this elaborate collection, and (very importantly) at no point are we allowed to forget that this is couture. This is drama, this is excess, and this is everything (and in my opinion, more) that you'd expect from the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture at Paris Fashion Week.
Aside from the awe-inspiring pieces that make up the "Wilderness Embodied"collection, van Herpen has achieved a lot with this show. Whilst some of the outfits are completely (fabulously) ridiculous, the designer has - for the first time with her haute couture - included some ready-to-wear dresses. This is a big step forward not only in terms of keeping couture relevant within the industry itself, but for the technology van Herpen has employed within the collection. Rather than simply creating accessories or 'armour' through the use of 3D printing (like in her previous collections), van Herpen and her team (particularly 3D printing company Materialise) have managed to produce a 3D printed garment: a complex, intricate single piece printed in one step. Some of her clothes are even machine-washable for goodness' sake.
This is no longer tech for tech's sake. Process' like 3D printing are beginning to establish themselves within the industry as totally viable technique options for creating pieces of parameter-shifting fashion items. And what's more, such innovation allows even more room for the development of concept and idea, safe in the knowledge that the impossible is quickly becoming manageable. Work such as van Herpen's offers a new perspective on production skill, pushing and maintaining the notion of craft in a whole-heartedly digital context. What I admire most about her work is the way in which this craft exists mutually alongside a variety of sophisticated, interdisciplinary tech - with emphasis on neither. Perhaps this balance is the secret to her success.
If anything, van Herpen's collection has only spurred our interest in - and realisation of the potential of - 3D printing (in particular) within fashion design. What I'm most excited for is the on going developments that we'll start to see in 3D printed materials, which have to be the next major area of innovation. Who knows what van Herpen and others might be creating this time next year.
images via style bubble
P.S. The shoes created as part of the collection are going to need their own separate post. Whicvh I will write at some point.