Fashion Studies Students Step Inside the Mind of Designer Iris van Herpen
Students in the Pamella Roland DeVos School of Fashion at Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD) recently got a behind-the-scenes look at some of the world’s most futuristic fashion courtesy of the newest exhibition at the Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM).
Iris van Herpen: Transforming Fashion presents a vast collection of spellbinding garments from the innovative Dutch designer, a former Alexander McQueen intern who has consistently defied trends, denied boundaries, and captivated the fashion world since launching her own label in 2007. The exhibition is one of the most anticipated in GRAM’s history, and KCAD Fashion Studies students were treated to a sneak peak of it by none other than van Herpen herself, the director of her label, Bradly Dunn Klerks, and Sarah Schleuning, the curator of decorative arts and design at the High Museum of Art, who originally curated Transforming Fashion.
(above): KCAD students, faculty, and staff pose wtih designer Iris van Herpen, her design team, and Grand Rapids Art Museum staff during a tour of the Iris van Herpen: Transforming Fashion exhibition at the Grand Rapids Art Museum; (below): Iris van Herpen talks with KCAD Fashion Studies Program Chair Lori Faulkner during a tour of the Iris van Herpen: Transforming Fashion exhibition at the Grand Rapids Art Museum. (images courtesy of the Grand Rapids Art Museum)
Van Herpen’s trademark intrepidity is the focal point of Transforming Fashion. Featuring select pieces from 15 different collections designed from 2008 through 2015, as well as footwear and pieces from her most recent lines, the exhibition rightly casts van Herpen as an artist who blends traditions of craftsmanship with a relentless pursuit of new ways of thinking about and designing fashion. Appearing more sculptural than wearable, the pieces begged close inspection, and the students were more than happy to comply.
Students also reveled in the opportunity to hear Dunn Klerks and Schleuning explain the techniques, materials, and processes behind each garment. Some were hand constructed with painstaking care, while others were created by pushing the limits of 3D printing, putting van Herpen’s pioneering fashion work with the technology on full display. Almost all of the garments include materials uncommon to the industry, from woven metal gauze to gold foil to discarded umbrella tines.
(above and below): KCAD Fashion Studies students get up close and personal with the garments on display in the Iris van Herpen: Transforming Fashion exhibition at the Grand Rapids Art Museum (images courtesy of the Grand Rapids Art Museum)
“We don’t want to create something that already exists. We want to create something new that doesn’t exist yet. So Iris is going to play with every crazy material she can find,” Dunn Klerks explained.
Schleuning added, “All of that experimentation is in service of the idea. It’s about finding the right way to bring the idea to life.”
Pushing toward new and original expression has also led van Herpen outside of her own discipline. Some of the most striking and forward-thinking garments in Transforming Fashion were designed in collaboration with artists, architects, musicians, photographers, and filmmakers. Schleuning encouraged students to similarly push their development to unexpected places by looking outside of the world of fashion.
“As she starts to collaborate, Iris is really setting out to find bigger ways to make things,” she said.
KCAD Fashion Studies students get up close and personal with the garments on display in the Iris van Herpen: Transforming Fashion exhibition at the Grand Rapids Art Museum (images courtesy of the Grand Rapids Art Museum)
The following day, the tables were turned as Dunn Klerks and Schleuning visited KCAD’s Fashion Studies classroom spaces and listened as students showcased their work and talked about their own design processes. Dunn Klerks admired the students’ willingness to experiment with different techniques and technologies, and implored them to remain endlessly curious. But he also cautioned them against letting technology, or lack thereof, drive their creative process.
“Don’t limit yourself. Just design something and then find the right tools to do it, or the right combination of tools,” he said.
Dunn Klerks also applauded one student who showed off a garment inspired by ocean waves and coral reefs, as van Herpen herself frequently looks to the patterns, motion, and color palette of nature for ideas.
On a fitting closing note, Dunn Klerks dispelled the notion that any one form of inspiration has more merit than others.
“That’s what makes you a designer. You don’t have to explain your inspiration to anyone but yourself,” he said.
(above and below): Bradly Dunn Klerks (far right), director of the Iris van Herpen label, and Sarah Schleuning (2nd from right), the curator of decorative arts and design at the High Museum of Art, visit the KCAD campus to interact with Fashion Studies students.
While the experience of meeting with van Herpen and her team will fuel the students in their own quests for new ideas, they’ve also paid that experience forward. In September, the students gave a presentation on van Herpen and her work to GRAM docents who will lead visitors through Transforming Fashion in the months to come.
Fashion Studies students giving a presentation on Iris van Herpen's work to docents at the Grand Rapids Art Museum
“In preparation for this event, the students researched, designed, and created garments including a 3D printed bodice and shoe inspired by Iris and her work, so meeting her was an incredible moment. To have her team review their original designs and give feedback is an experience they will never forget,” said Fashion Studies Program Chair Lori Faulkner. “Our program provided the flexibility to be able to incorporate the visit of this cutting edge designer into the curriculum and use it as a form of community outreach and partnership.”
Iris van Herpen: Transforming Fashion is on display now through January 15, 2017. Go here for more information.
For more information on KCAD’s Fashion Studies program, visit kcad.edu/fashion.