Iris van Herpen turns to 3D printing for haute couture show

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Will digital code increasingly replace high-fashion fine needlework? The fashion-tech revolution has taken a strong step forward with Iris van Herpen’s latest haute couture fashion collection titled ‘VOLTAGE’ which was shown in Paris on January 21. 

3D printing company Stratasys produced the first of two high-tech looks, a stunning cape and skirt combination which van Herpen designed with MIT professor Neri Oxman (the polymath artist, architect and designer works at the university’s Media Lab). 

Stratasys used its unique ‘Objet Connex multi-material 3D printing technology’ to produce the outfit. This process allowed both hard and soft materials to be incorporated within the design: “the ability to vary softness and elasticity inspired us to design a ‘second skin’ for the body acting as armor-in-motion,” explained Oxman.

The second look, produced by Belgium-based Materialise and designed with Austrian architect Julia Koerner (currently a lecturer at UCLA Los Angeles) is an intricate and flexible dress. The dress was produced using a new technique known as Laser Sintering, a process which starts with a raw polymer powder, and uses a laser to fuse small particles into a preprogrammed shape.  

According to Koerner, this allowed the pair to produce “a highly complex, parametrically generated, geometrical structure”. Put simply, the process completely eliminates the seams and cuts usually required to build a couture outfit. The dress was composed by superimposing multiple layers of thin woven lines, producing a flexible, organic form when fitted to the body. 

Twenty-eight-year-old van Herpen first trained at the ArtEZ Institute of the Arts, Arnhem before working at Alexander McQueen (the London designer’s dramatic shapes are a clear influence). Fashion-forward celebrities Björk, Daphne Guinness and Lady Gaga have been spotted in outfits by van Herpen. 

The Dutchwoman is very excited by the future of technology in fashion: “my work very much comes from abstract ideas and using new techniques, not the re-invention of old ideas. I find the process of 3D printing fascinating because I believe it will only be a matter of time before we see the clothing we wear today produced with this technology.”

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