What Iris Van Herpen achieved with her spring couture collection is astonishing. Viewed from a laptop screen at home, her nine-minute video of trembling, fungi-inspired dresses summoned true wonderment and emotion, both rising steadily along with spore clouds from her catwalk — a little CGI magic that was pitch perfect for her otherworldly fashion universe.
By the time Natalia Vodianova emerged in a bridal minidress, feather-y white filaments dancing around her hips and that angelic face, there were tears on the desk mat — and all the ills of the world were completely forgotten. That’s what great fashion can do.
The Dutch designer’s offbeat reference — biologist Merlin Sheldrake’s research suggesting plant life communicates via a complex underground network he dubbed the “wood wide web” — became completely legible on the darkened runway. Embroidery motifs on filmy dresses crawled over torsos like some gorgeous root system — or the wires and cables that enable our connected world — while long skirts erupted in irregular pleats that mimic the gills and rings of mushrooms.
Van Herpen’s inimitable blend of high-tech and organic reached a new zenith with these 21 dresses. While no doubt the 3D printers were whirring away in her Amsterdam atelier, the designer also achieved multiple feats of haute dressmaking. One was hand-twisting pleated silk into stiff but curving tendrils that grow around the body like an ivy hugs a pergola.
“A lot of times when you talk about innovation, people nowadays link it to technology, right?” Van Herpen mused during an interview earlier this month. “But innovation is much more than innovation within technology. Within craftsmanship, there is a whole world of innovation possible as well.”
Van Herpen had planted the seed for this collection last July, when she showed a single dress anchored by an intricate lattice of black branches that erupted into flower-like sprays of white silk organza petals. There were similar, fin-like protrusions here at the top and bottom of gowns, undulating magnificently in her slow-motion video.
Each dress was a staggering feat of haute engineering and couture finesse, and each had a unique personality and quality: Some looked like rivers of molten red metal cascading over the body; some resembled winged creatures, and others almost defied description.
What registered was their delicacy, femininity and a regal quality that belongs to some futuristic eco age. All hail these gorgeous mushroom queens!