Though she’s known first and foremost as the herald of 3-D-printed haute couture, Dutch designer Iris van Herpen has always dealt in theater as much as technology. Now in her fifth year as a fixture on the runways, van Herpen’s flair for drama has never been stronger. At Paris Fashion Week on Monday, she opened her Spring 2013 presentation (appropriately titled Voltage) with a model dressed in a metallic bodysuit swaying atop a Tesla coil as columns of purple electricity gusseted from her limbs.
After a few minutes of ghostly swaying, the real show began—van Herpen unveiled 11 new garments designed and produced using emerging digital technologies, including two 3-D printed dresses and a gown created with laser sintering. "My work very much comes from abstract ideas and using new techniques, not the reinvention of old ideas," van Herpen commented. "I believe it will only be a matter of time before we see the clothing we wear today produced with [3-D printing]."
The centerpiece of Voltage is a skirt-and-cape combo lined with thousands of tiny white anemone-like nodules, designed in collaboration with MIT Media Lab professor Neri Oxman and produced by 3-D printing company Stratasys (both of whom we’ve written about before). What’s remarkable about the outfit is that it’s been printed on an Object Connex, a new type of printer that allows a single model to incorporate different materials—so some of it is soft and flexible, while other sections act as a kind of structural skeleton. "The ability to vary softness and elasticity inspired us to design a 'second skin’ for the body acting as armor-in-motion," explains van Herpen. "In this way we were able to design not only the garment’s form but also its motion."
A bevy of other models wearing tightly curled bangs (do they remind anyone else of Downton Abbey's Ms. O’Brien?) sported other looks from Voltage, like a beautifully detailed gown sprouting with transparent blades of grass. A second collaboration—this one with Austrian architect Julia Koerner and Belgian company Materialise—produced a transparent black cocktail dress made by laser sintering, a fabrication technique that uses lasers to fuse together particles of plastic or resin. The dress looks like it’s been woven by some very deft hands—in fact, the thousands of threads were fused in the bed of a sintering machine. It’s meant to "animate the body in an organic way," Koerner explains.
As 3-D printing becomes more ubiquitous, the novelty of van Herpen’s first forays into 3-D-printed couture will wane. But it seems she’s intent on driving deeper into the world of emerging digital fabrication, pushing forward her technical game alongside her wild creative vision. It’s exciting to see her refusing to rest on her laurels. Also exciting? The prospect of seeing Gaga in a laser-sintered dress in the near future.