According to Broadway president, Jordan Roth and innovative designer, Iris Van Herpen, haute couture is still a relevant form of art in today’s world of trend-focused, fast fashion. In fact, the pair – who collaborated on a boundary-breaking garment for this year’s Met Gala believe that couture is key to the future of fashion and could even help the industry to become more sustainable.
Roth and Van Herpen’s partnership proved just how powerful couture could be, with one of the most extravagant Met Gala looks of 2019. For the occasion back in May, Roth adorned a multi-layered cape resembling a closed curtain; when he raised his arms, the piece transformed into an amplified wave of theatre. The couture creation was a wearable structure of movement and illusion formed from a complex process of laser-cutting, digital printing and heat-bonding a hybrid of materials. Below, Van Herpen and Roth speak exclusively to Vogue Arabia to discuss that Met Gala look, the evolution of the craft and why couture is far from a dying art form.
Define what haute couture means to you.
Van Herpen: “Haute Couture to me is the art of fashion, the laboratory and the heart, the place where innovation and craft are perfected into the finest possible level.”
Roth: “My experience of couture is as an artist, in that it gives me a new avenue to express myself. I come from the world of theatre and I see a lot of parallels between theatre and couture. Both start with an idea, something an artist wants to say about the world. Those ideas are then manifested into a creative expression, which is then made into a reality by extraordinary artisans and craftspeople who are creating work for this experience and this experience only.”
Van Herpen: “Through the lens of haute couture, my atelier can zoom into historic craftsmanship and evolve the love for handwork, whilst we also develop new technologies and collaborate with artists, architects and scientists to do so. These new forms of couture can stretch the edges of fashion in ways that were previously unimaginable.”
Roth: “Couture brings an idea to life; it calls forth what is beautiful in this one piece and in this one person and so it is the perfect canvas on which to explore who we are artistically. That’s the theatre of couture, and the couture of theatre.”
Can you talk about the future of couture —how can couture stay relevant in an age of digital technology?
Van Herpen: “I would like to turn the question around; why is Couture becoming essential in the age of digital technology?”
Roth: “Couture is coming into a new chapter in the digital age, both in terms of creative possibilities and in terms of the ability to connect with people. We only have to look to Iris’ work to see how the handcrafted and the artistic impulse can fly on the wings of technology and how she uses technology to accomplish the impossible.”
Van Herpen: “My aim is make haute couture the engine of progress in our rapidly changing digital age. Through my creative process, partnering with scientists and engineers, I am able to develop materials and techniques that improve sustainability and production.”
“Today, I take fashion as a moving entity. That transformative view gives me freedom to approach fashion from a different perspective. We cannot continue to make and buy like we do today, mass production as we know it today will die. ‘Choose’ is the key word for our future. As a conscious consumer, you only need a few good quality pieces and that is where couture becomes relevant. I believe couture is the answer to the much-needed research and material developments.”
How does the Met Gala and the Costume Institute’s annual fashion exhibit help to showcase couture as an art form?
Roth: “Fashion is art. But, so much of our ability to see and understand art is about context.”
Van Herpen: “[The Met Gala] zooms in to the deeper layers and meaning behind garments and their concepts. It really shows different perspectives to fashion, unraveling important bridges between the past and the current journey of fashion. The gala itself really is a beautiful ceremony of art embodied, of feminine and masculine transformations, it’s an extraordinary bird of paradise dance.”
Roth: “The Met puts fashion on a literal pedestal next to the great paintings, sculptures and photography of our time – which says, “look here, this is art.”
When Iris and I created this year’s Met look, the proscenium, the frame, was a fundamental jumping off point for the piece. The proscenium in theatre and the frame in visual art is the thing that says, “look here, this is important, this is art.” One of the ideas that I shared with Iris at the very beginning was that if you put a frame on a street, you make art out of life, simply by saying “look here.”
Van Herpen: “Jordan’s briefing to me was really poetic: ‘Put a proscenium around anything, raise a curtain in front of anything, and it becomes performance. Performance is life, framed.’ I loved his words, and the concept for [the Met] look was to transform Jordan into a performance himself, to make him an art form.”
This was Van Herpen’s first design for a man, how do you think men’s couture will evolve?
Van Herpen: “Couture is evolving, it’s not only about tulle and lace, instead its developing a deeper meaning then pure romance and is creating a real dialogue with new technologies, sustainability and science. This is as relevant for men as it is for women.
Roth: “The lines between menswear and womenswear are fading, more and more designers are becoming interested in creating work that is defined by their artistic point of view and not by traditional notions of gender. Couture as the artistic pinnacle of art fashion is an extraordinary form in which to explore those ideas and expand those possibilities. I don’t come to my couture collaborations as a “man,” I come to my couture collaborations as myself, and I bring all the ideas and experiences and emotions that make me, me.”
Jordan, in what way does clever design have the power to transform emotion and feeling as a wearer?
Roth: “For me, fashion is an outward expression of what is inside. It is an opportunity – everyday, not just the extraordinary moments of couture, but everyday – an opportunity to say “this is who I am. This is how I feel.” What I wear can change how I feel, it can lift me and bring me to a new level of possibility. Fashion offers us all a palette, each piece is a different color to paint with, and we are painting ourselves on ourselves.”
Iris, despite what seems to be going on around you, you always seem to be remarkably ahead of the rest and remaining true to your aesthetic. Discuss.
Van Herpen: “Science, biology, architecture, innovative minds from other disciplines keep on inspiring me. My atelier and I are learning every season, every collection we approach as being explorers of new land. To date, we (humanity) have only explored less than five percent of the ocean – which is beyond strange – that’s how I approach fashion. I feel there is still 95 % of fashion still undiscovered.”