Iris Van Herpen’s otherworldly dresses, sometimes resembling undersea creatures, finally found themselves submerged — and in one of the deepest pools in Europe no less.
Opting for a filmed presentation, the Dutch designer conscripted French free diver Julie Gautier to interpret her spring haute couture collection, which transmitted a strong political message via wondrous visual poetry.
To watch Gautier writhe and sway in the depths, tangled in the long strands of red hair attached to her dress, was to witness solidarity with the struggle of women in Iran, where morality police have been enforcing strict codes around dress and behavior, prompting global outrage.
“Everyone should be the owner of her own beauty: If you take that away, you take someone’s voice away,” Van Herpen said over Teams from her Amsterdam studio. “It’s really a feminist approach, to show the strength of women.”
Gautier and two models with diving experience perform arresting underwater dances with Van Herpen’s printed silks and laser-cut fronds swaying around them, creating a hypnotic choreography that speaks of fortitude, resilience and invincibility. Stirring original music by composer Miranda Vukasovic heightens the emotional poignancy.
Van Herpen’s clothes have never looked more ethereal, the color and drape of dégradé silks intensified in the water. Many dresses are built up from intricately seamed bodysuits with the look of alien fossils, to which the designer attached the strands of hair or long trains that, under water, truly resemble the translucent fins of fancy goldfish.
In July 2021, Van Herpen tested the limits of her delicate couture craftsmanship by having her finale gown worn by an elite skydiver endure a headfirst, 300-kilometer-per-hour fall to earth.
The designer marveled that her spring dresses withstood one week of submerged filming, her seamstresses often right there in the pool with Gautier and the models. “They needed a little bit of fixing afterward, but I was quite surprised by how well they held up,” she said.
Van Herpen will host a showroom in Paris this week to show her clients how they can wear her creations on dry land.
The designer has used glass, silicone, rubber, metal lace, iron filings, blended steel and resin in her creations, but it was her first time employing hair, both real and artificial.
In a curious case of serendipity, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs just revealed a spring exhibition devoted to hair and body hair. It runs from April 5 until Sept. 17.
Van Herpen will pick up the strand on Nov. 29, when a retrospective devoted to her designs opens in the same Paris museum.