Iris Van Herpen

Preparing for the final U.S. stop of “Iris van Herpen: Transforming Fashion” at the Phoenix Art Museum, even the designer found herself considering her work in a new way.

In a phone interview Thursday, she said the museum’s expansive setup allows for visitors to see a big part of her work all in one room and the connectivity of her 10 years-plus career. “Obviously, as a fashion designer, I work in collections. Each collection has its own story, but there is always a continuity in the work. There are things that come back, materials that come back, textures that have become my identity over the years. Somehow seeing all my collections together over the years, I see my own work in a different light,” she said.

Once the exhibition moves on to Toronto, the Dutch designer plans to update it with more recent pieces from her past few collections. Known for her experimental, futuristic creations, the designer liked joint efforts. She recently did the dancers’ and singers’ costumes for Claude Debussy’s only completed opera, “Pelléas et Mélisande” at Opera Antwerpen in Antwerp. Marina Abramovic, who handled the sets, rang up van Herpen after seeing her designs. Up for the challenge, the designer said she met with Abramovic and choreographers Damien Jalet and Sidi Larbi. “It was such a great project. I got so much freedom,” she said. “When I started, I had no idea where it would go because there was so much input. It came together so beautifully. Everyone really lifted each other. Sometimes when you work with people for the first time, it’s like finding each other. But this was a really nice process.”

Van Herpen is working on other yet-to-be-disclosed collaborations related to dance, cosmetics, accessories and architecture that will be introduced later this year. While the designer has asked architects to work within her work in the past, “this is now the other way around, which is very exciting,” she said. After the Phoenix opening, she planned to fly to New York for meetings.

Through another tie-up with the University of Technology in the Netherlands, van Herpen is helping to advance 3-D printing and other techniques. Both parties are working to combine the knowledge and material making of another one of her collaborators, the sculptor Peter Gentenaar, with technology. “We’re really combining old craftsmanship with new 3-D printers at the university. That is something I do a lot. Nothing comes from nothing. That’s where we’re zooming into now, but what comes out you never know. Often it starts somewhere and you end up somewhere else. It’s a process of chaos,” van Herpen said.

While other designers quite regularly ask for her advice about 3-D printing, she said there are so many ways to print and so many companies that “everyone really needs to do it on their own. There’s no one right way,” she said.

That approach holds true to her own design process. Before any drawing is done, Van Herpen prefers to start by experimenting, trying out new things and reaching out to people to be part of the research. “This is really the open pool where everything is possible. I take two months before making decisions about the direction, defining the collection, etc.,” she said. “I’m now in this free fight, which I really enjoy — trying to find the right connection. It’s really controversial going in all these directions at the same time.”

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