This morning Karl Lagerfeld vacuum-packed the iconic Chanel handbag in his stupendous Supermarket Sweep of a show. This afternoon Iris van Herpen went one step further and vacuum-packed the model. Both the handbags and the girls were basically the same: perfectly packaged products.
Both designers were making a comment on consumerism: Lagerfeld staging a Pop masterpiece, an event that resulted in a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy—a mini riot with the looting of doormats and rubber gloves. Van Herpen presented an unsettling tableau about the human genome—30 percent of which is already patented—with three models wriggling about like tadpoles as the air was slowly sucked out of the large plastic bags they were suspended in. While that went on, the catwalk show paced stately by. With almost a third of the models' and our genetic codes already pilfered—and not by editors who really should know better this time—Van Herpen titled her show "Biopiracy."
And yet Van Herpen is not a designer who disagrees with progress—that's not to mean she agrees with the abuse of it, either. "It is just raising questions," she said of her show. In fact, the designer is one of the few who is truly striving for progress in fashion. The most obvious example of this is her groundbreaking embracing of 3-D printing, which is becoming something of a signature. It gives many of her clothes an architectural quality, and today's final silicone 3-D-printed dress was made in conjunction with one of her collaborators, the Canadian architect Philip Beesley. Collaboration is key for Van Herpen; one of her other working relationships is with the Material Department of MIT. Her next step is a project with CERN—yes, the supercollider people. Many of these collaborative relationships can be found in the latest issue of A Magazine, of which she is the guest editor. They are both impressive and heartfelt.
Van Herpen defined that final dress as: "Bringing an explosion of the inside to the outside." And in terms of ideas, that is exactly what the designer is doing. With her mix of handcraft and technology, the real and the artificial, Van Herpen is breaking new ground. Her clothes today featured that characteristic mix: a sinuous new fabric of silk and plastic, artificial fire opals embedded and glinting through embroidery—"I don't believe in using real ones," she said. "They should be left in the ground." Neither does she believe in using real fur; hers today were fake, and the shagreen was not shark or ray but printed leather. The overall impression was of event-wear—where the event is the end of the world. Some elements of Van Herpen's silhouettes today seemed familiar—both Boudicca and Gareth Pugh have mined similar territory before, and the aquatic master class of Lee McQueen's "Plato's Atlantis" show was present. But Iris van Herpen has a unique approach and a wealth of new ideas that mean the future outer explosions will grow and match the inner ones in collections to come.