Iris van Herpen. Sculpting the Senses at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris

Iris van Herpen is one of today’s most interesting fashion designers. After graduating from the ArtEZ University of the Arts in Arnhem in 2006, she briefly worked with Alexander McQueen, before establishing her own fashion house Maison Iris van Herpen in 2007. Four years later, she joined the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture in Paris. She created a name for herself with highly sculptural designs, which won her famous fans like Björk, Lady Gaga, Celine Dion, Scarlett Johansson and Beyoncé.

In her work Iris van Herpen extends the realm of the possible. Her work inhibits a space somewhere between fairy tale and science fiction. She has pioneered the use of innovative technologies such as 3D printing to create intricate designs that would be impossible to create by other means. Admittedly, these are not garments to be worn to the office or on a hiking trip. These are wearable works of art that capture the imagination.

The exhibition consists of more than one hundred haute couture pieces that Iris van Herpen has created over the years. The exhibition is conceived as a journey through nine thematic spaces, beginning with water and sea life and proceeding through human anatomy and organic systems and ending with the cosmos.

The garments are shown alongside sea shells, drawings of brain cells by Santiago Ramón y Cajal, illustrations by the 19th-century French naturalist Charles-Alexandre Lesueur and excerpts from “Terra”, a documentary by Yann Arthus-Bertrand and Michael Pitiot. In addition, the exhibition also features works by contemporary artists such as Rogan Brown, Janaina Mello Landini, Casey Curran and Kim Keever, who share Iris van Herpen’s fascination with organic growth, skeletal forms and fluid dynamics. 

Like Iris van Herpen, I too have long been fascinated by patterns in nature and so I greatly enjoyed the exhibition. I particularly loved the walls covered with try-outs and experiments from her studio, which offer a glimpse into the creative process.

Unfortunately, like the Thierry Mugler retrospective Couturissime, much of the exhibition is shrouded in darkness with the mannequins highlighted by spotlights. I’m all for adventurous scenography, but I still prefer brightly lit rooms. I also think that the exhibition would have deserved to be shown in the main hall of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, because it is way more interesting than the Fashion and Sports exhibition that is being shown concurrently. 

Beware that the exhibition is one of the hottest tickets in town. I had made an online reservation and so had no trouble getting into the exhibition. Going on a Saturday afternoon was probably not the best idea though.

If you can’t make it to the exhibition, it is accompanied by a richly illustrated catalogue that is available from all bookstores.

Iris van Herpen. Sculpting the Senses is at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris through 28 April 2024. It will then travel on to the Queensland Art Gallery / Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane, Australia and the Kunsthal in Rotterdam, The Netherlands.