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Iris van Herpen Exhibit is a WOW at the Grand Rapids Art Museum

Iris van Herpen
Iris van Herpen

I attended a fashion exhibit in Grand Rapids recently that took me back 30 years to my days as a fashion reporter for the Grand Rapids Press.  Wow.  How things have changed.

The show, “Iris van Herpen Transforming Fashion” is currently at the Grand Rapids Art Museum through Jan. 15.

Iris van Herpen
Iris van Herpen

In those days—the mid 1980s, the Press would send a photographer and me to NYC for a week to cover all the big shows.   I loved it.  Long days in the frantic world of fast fashion—trying to get good seats, hoping my photographer would catch the images I wanted while deciphering trends  Viewing thousands of clothes. Endless parade of really wild, outrageous and gorgeous clothes.

Mostly I tried to come up with trends to report—all in a very fast order because I had to report back to the editor at home, who would take the photos (sent by overnight Fed Ex to processed in the Press darkroom) to add to the stories I called in.

My leads (first paragraph) were like this….
“The fabric often associated with romantic romps through floral fields hit the run ways in a big way.” GR Press. November 13, 1988. A story about the trend of chintz

“….the theme is shape. After several seasons of confusion, the majority of designers are taking strong stands on silhouettes and lengths.” GR Prs April 16, 1989 Story goes on to describe the predominate shape as trapeze.

“Designers did vests in every fabric from black lace to neon yellow.” April 23, 1989

Get the idea?

Fast forward to the Iris van Herpen show at the GRAM.  This is an exhibit of a very talented and innovative Dutch designer who shows her garments in the high stakes world of French Couture.  Unusual. They typically only allow French designers to show during the legendary Paris Fashion weeks, but she’s so spectacular that she got special dispensation.

What struck me and everyone else who has seen it is the futuristic approach to fashion. It totally blurs the lines between fashion and art, technology, science and fine craftsman ship.  The show (organized by the Netherland’s Groninger Museum and the High Museum of Atlanta) contains a total of 45 garments— three from each of her twice yearly collections.  Are the themes like the trends I watched long ago?

Nope. Each collection is a specific exploration of a theme like like Refinery Smoke or Chemical Crow. Another one is an exploration of skydiving.  Some of the clothes are made out of glass bubbles.  Others umbrella spokes.  Others plastic.  Many look totally unwearable.

Iris van Herpen
Iris van Herpen

Iris van Herpen was the first to send 3D printed fashion down a runway in 2010 and has been on a wild ride of exploration ever since.

One can’t help but ask, “How did she make that?

And who buys them? Wealthy celebrities and individuals who want drop dead attire.  Shocking really.  People like Madonna, Beyonce’ and Lady Gaga. She’s also designed for the Paris Opera and the New York City Ballet.  Ron Platt, Chief Curator at GRAM, told me many museums are collecting her work.

Expect to see the trickle down effect. She will be copied in more wearable and affordable ways.  Fashion and Art work like that.

Amazingly, you can see this collection in Grand Rapids.  I’ve been going to NYC to the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for years (since the days of Diana Vreeland) for forward thinking and interesting collections. Now, all I had to do was head to downtown Grand Rapids.  Kudos to the GRAM for bringing this exciting exhibit to us.

Here are some images.  I’m not going to say too much because if you live near Western Michigan this is a cultural visit you need to make. You don’t have to love fashion or to be drawn to art to be fascinated with show. I’ve been twice and will most likely go again.

Iris van Herpen
Iris van Herpen
Iris van Herpen
Iris van Herpen
Iris van Herpen
Iris van Herpen
Iris van Herpen
Iris van Herpen
Iris van Herpen
Iris van Herpen
Iris van Herpen
Iris van Herpen
Iris van Herpen
Iris van Herpen
Iris van Herpen
Iris van Herpen
Iris van Herpen
Iris van Herpen

Just for fun: as I was digging through dusty old clippings for examples of the kind of coverage I used to provide in the fashion world, I came across this published on April 13, 1989:
“New York—As most of you re donning the spring’s polka dot accessories, filmy chiffon and neon brights, PhotographerRex Larsen and I have pushed our way among 600 editors, writers, retailers and fashionable folk here to get a look at what’s in store for fall.
“It’s not an easy experience. On Monday alone, we attended seven shows, each with 75-100 outfits. That’s up to 700 outfits a day.
“I look at the fall clothes on two levels: the realistic styles that will sell in Western Michigan, and the bizarre ones that run on the newspaper pages because of their novelty. “

When I look at the Iris van Herpen exhibit I see a different world and I love it.

Iris van Herpen
Iris van Herpen
Iris van Herpen
Iris van Herpen
Post Author
Susan J. Smith
Susan's career includes writing for newspapers, lots of community work and a wonderful family life. Now she is enjoying traveling, photography and writing for DesignDestinations and Grand Rapids Magazine. She welcomes you on her journey and appreciates your comments.

Comments

7 Comments
  1. posted by
    Kathy
    Nov 21, 2016 Reply

    Susan, what a fun blog. My idea of fashion is the polar opposite of your photos! I must say that my favorite is the dress designed with night crawlers–primarily because we spend endless hours in northern Mn looking for the exact right one for fishing!

    • posted by
      Susan J. Smith
      Nov 21, 2016 Reply

      You are too funny. I think you’d enjoy the exhibit.

  2. posted by
    JoAnne
    Nov 21, 2016 Reply

    Wow! I wish I were closer. I would so love to see this in person. Fantastical and creepy, powerful and profound. Seriously great stuff!

    • posted by
      Susan J. Smith
      Nov 21, 2016 Reply

      I do think you’d enjoy it. It does go to a couple more museums after Grand Rapids. I’ll see if I can find out where. Who knows…..it could be Seattle.

  3. posted by
    Kim Cornetet
    Nov 29, 2016 Reply

    Love this Susan! So Lady Gaga!

  4. posted by
    Melanie Rogers
    Jan 6, 2017 Reply

    Susan, I certainly appreciate your “bringing” this exhibit to me, as I have not been and will not be able to come down and see before it leaves. I venture it’s safe to say that Iris van Herpin is the Zaha Hadid of fashion, these pieces are remarkably beautiful and provocative pieces of art.
    Many thanks for sharing your thoughts and photos!

    • posted by
      smithsj
      Jan 6, 2017 Reply

      I am so sorry you aren’t going to be able to see this exhibit in real life. It is fantastic. I do appreciate your kind words and thank you for them. I’m glad you enjoyed my blog post. I do understand that the GRAM is considering buying one of the pieces for the permanent collection.

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