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Iris Van Herpen on How Space and Skydiving Became Her Unlikely Inspirations

Photography by Siermond & Nicholas Fols II

“She’s connected to nature, art and innovation,” says fashion designer and couturier Iris van Herpen of the woman she designs for. “But she also sees the value of material and construction.” And all of those trademarks are clearer than ever this season as she delivers a gravity-defying collection entitled Earthrise and accompanying film that is, quite frankly, mind-blowing. 

Photography by Siermond & Nicholas Fols II

Founded in 2007, the 37-year-old Dutch designer’s maison has since become renowned for boundary-pushing innovations in couture (her mesmerising FW19 collection where sculptural dresses moved in conjunction with the wind springs to mind) and have been worn by the likes of Beyoncé, Lady Gaga and Naomi Campbell. By uniting the artisanal with multidisciplinary technologies, van Herpen explores elaborate techniques such as 3D printing, laser-cutting and digital fabrications in ways that had never before been seen. “I have a passion for craftsmanship,” she says. “There’s been a beautiful evolution of it throughout the centuries and it has an important place in our future.” 

Photography by Siermond & Nicholas Fols II

Working in collaboration with Domitille Kiger, a world champion skydiver, van Herpen places the art of the extreme sport at the forefront of the collection with meticulous construction and innovative fabrics. And the film? A luminous spectacle that climaxes with Kiger performing a choreographed skydiving routine in a van Herpen creation. “No one would see the parallels between haute couture and skydiving, but the connection is strong,” says the designer, describing how fabric and its movement is vital to the sport. “I wanted to dedicate this partly to Domitille and the incredible way she lives.”

Photography by Siermond & Nicholas Fols II

Ahead of the film’s premiere on July 5, Vogue caught up with the designer via Zoom from her Amsterdam atelier to discuss the new collection film, the crossovers with skydiving and haute couture, as well as her hopes for fashion in a post-pandemic world. 

What’s your earliest memory of fashion and what is it about the craft of couture that led you to practice it yourself?

“My grandma was a collector of garments, both modern and historic, stored in her attic. As a kid, I would go there a lot and transform myself into different worlds and feel the power of clothing. I also started working with my hands from an early age because my mum was making clothes.

“I’m drawn to both art and fashion. There’s a beautiful connection between the history and the future of fashion, which is what I try to bring with my work.”

Photography by Siermond & Nicholas Fols II

How did the collaboration with Domitille Kiger come about? What is it about skydiving that interests you?                                                                                                                            

 “I did my first skydive when I was 17 and it was an experience that never left me, so I followed the work of the world champion skydivers, such as Domitille. I’ve dedicated my life to shaping and draping fabric, and with Domitille, her life depends on the fabric unfolding in the right shape. I approached her and when she came to my atelier, we talked about the similarities of pushing our limits in our respective work. It was a beautiful match. Some people call skydiving a sport, I also see it as artistic expression.”  

Photography by Siermond & Nicholas Fols II

Where did the reference to space and Earth come from?

“It started from a 1968 photo taken [by Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders] from the perspective of an astronaut looking back at Earth from the moon. Like Earth, there’s a lot of greens and blues in the collection. The NASA archives have inspired a lot of it, as well.”

Photographed by Jenny Norin

You’ve got a knack for combining handwork, technology and sustainability — where does this come from?                              

“There’s no specific process, but my way of thinking is very interdisciplinary, so I like to work with people from different backgrounds such as architects, scientists and biologists. Craftsmanship can evolve to help us look at fashion in new ways and a big part of that, of course, is sustainability. It’s a slow, long route, but I believe in investing in it to take little steps forward.

“Last season, we started collaborating with [sea-protection campaign] Parley for the Oceans, which involved weaving plastic recovered from the ocean into an extraordinary super-fine, delicate fabric. This season, we integrated the fabric into multiple pieces, some full looks, too.”   

Photographed by Jenny Norin

What were some of the painstakingly difficult details to create this season?

“The main technique is delicately made from thousands of spheres in different size and colour gradients, which creates an optical illusion of movement and depth, and each circle is hand cut and has a tiny outline of one millimetre that is also cut and placed separately. Another was in collaboration with artist Rogan Brown, whose paper sculptures involve layers of fine knife-cutting, often based on scientific illustrations from nature. We translated his delicate technique into soft, wearable garments. These were the most challenging and time-consuming of everything we did.”

Photographed by Jenny Norin

What will the film look like and which collaborators were instrumental in bringing it to life? 

“We wanted to create this feeling of levitation. It was shot partly in France with Domitille skydiving, as well on top of the Dolomites in Italy. The film was directed by Masha Vasyukova, whose work I admire and have been following for a while, and she’s been part of the whole process since the development of the collection. Also, [Nepali model and musician] Tsunaina has a big part in the film, singing for us.” 

Photographed by Jenny Norin

What do you hope for the future of fashion in a post-pandemic world?

“The physical moment of sharing new creations is essential in fashion and that will not go away. But now there’s more space in the ways that designers can express a collection, both digitally and physically. It’s freeing and I hope we continue this freedom of expression.”

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