Every so often, a true genius breaks out into the fashion scene. They bring a sense of experimentation and adventure while creating some of the most exquisite avant-garde pieces that force the industry and the public alike to reimagine the definition of beauty. The two most prominent figures who revolutionized fashion of late were the two tortured souls coming out of the UK: Alexander McQueen and John Galliano. With McQueen’s tragic passing and Galliano’s rapid fall from fame, fashion has been searching for the next bright talent to make history. Cue Iris van Herpen, a designer out of Amsterdam who has been pushing the boundaries of creativity since starting her own line in 2007. In 2015, she was recognized as one of the most promising fashion designers and solidified her place in history by having her own solo exhibit, called “Transforming Fashion,” which has made its way to Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum for its final stop in its North American tour.

Many do not realize that behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the ROM has the third largest costume and textile collection in the world. In the past, they have showcased exhibitions like Christian Dior, Star Wars Gowns from Rodarte, Viva Mexico! Clothing and Culture, Worn: Shaping Black Feminine Identity, Fashion Follows Form: Designs for Sitting, and Viktor&Rolf Dolls, each of these exhibitions pulling artifacts from their own personal collection. Their latest installation, Transforming Fashion: Iris van Herpen, is not from the ROM’s collection, but actually showcases pieces from van Herpen’s runway shows as recent as 2015. As curator Alexandra Palmer notes, fashion from the past ten years is just often looked at as old clothing rather than a part of history, but van Herpen’s designs are so extraordinary that they have become an exception to this linear mindset.

Iris van Herpen is no ordinary designer. Her clothes go beyond fashion: they are art forms that work with materials like leather, acrylics, and plastics amongst more traditional fabric and are formed using age-old technologies (hand cutting, the sewing machine, glass blowing). While she is credited with creating the first 3D printed dress, most of her creations are made by hand in-house, pushing the boundaries of creativity while staying true to the human form. She inspires the fashion world to open up the possibilities of how to think, dress and make our most extraordinary imaginations visible.

Some may bring up the question of wearability – who would even wear these clothes? But these creations are not just clothes, they are art. Without designers like van Herpen, fashion would just be apparel, and what we wear would only be based on function. By distorting and playing with the natural human form by building avant-garde couture pieces, Iris van Herpen is able to transform our perception of ourselves and others.


Her shows are often known for her shoes, made in partnership with the New York brand United Nude, which will change the gait of how models walk, the sound someone makes when they walk in the room, and ultimately how you look. She truly opens our minds to think outside of the box when it comes to fashion. It’s no wonder fashion-forward fans like Solange Knowles and Lady Gaga continues to gravitate towards the designer for their on (and sometimes off) red-carpet looks.


Patricia Harris Gallery of Textiles & Costume


At a recent talk with the fashion genius hosted by the ROM for its members and media alike, we learned more about the inspiration and work ethic of the designer to understand the inner workings of her mind.

Iris grew up a dancer but transcended into the fashion world as she got older as it was a place to combine her love of theatrics, art, and movement. She refers to the ethos of her work as craftsmanship, something that links both innovation and hard work. While her commitment to her craft limits her in terms of tools, she believes that this is the reason she continues to move forward. “There are many things that I am unable to do today that I may be doing in a few years, and I think that is why we continue.”

Her atelier focuses on the assembly of the designs, so much of the innovative fabrics and materials are actually made off-site and then brought into her studio. There is never a plan though; van Herpen believes in trial and error and prefers to create her designs on the model or mannequin to preserve the beauty and humanity of each piece.

For those who think she is too futuristic, she notes “I see why people see the future and modernity in the work, but I hope I can inspire them to think of today as a different world.” It is her intuitive process and abstract methods that produce a new perspective on today’s society and culture. She is able to incorporate technology like laser cutting or 3D printing – methods widely used in industrial scopes outside of fashion – to commentate on what is currently occurring in our modern age.


To pair with the couture designs, the ROM has commissioned the work on one of Iris’ long-time collaborators, Canadian architect Philip Beesley. His installations change the way we engage with art and architecture, blurring the lines between nature and technology. His idea is to create “metabolic architecture,” where manmade structures can be seen as living things. The installation, known as Transforming Space, integrates architecture, engineering, and visual arts to create a luminous and interactive landscape. It combines four of the ten collaborations Beesley and van Herpen have worked together on over the years: Hybrid Holism(2012), Voltage (2013), Magnetic Motion(2014) and Hacking Infinity (2015).


The new exhibitions are a sight to be seen. They explore the endless possibilities that come from interweaving design, art, and technology. Whether or not you are interested in fashion, this new immersive display will take you on a captivating journey to shift your perspective of the world around us.


IRIS VAN HERPEN: TRANSFORMING FASHION and the complementing PHILIP BEESLEY: TRANSFORMING SPACE is now open at the ROM from June 2nd– October 8th2018. Buy your tickets here.

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