Digital design has offered many creative minds like architects and fashion designers the chance to become reborn fabricators and craftsmen, driving manufacturing from their computer desktops.
Architect Philip Beesley and fashion designer Iris van Herpen are two pioneering examples, it is therefore only natural for them to often collaborate together. For her S/S 17 Haute Couture collection, showcased at the Maison des Metallos in Paris on Monday, van Herpen moved from the gaps found in between the materials she used (the collection is called "Between the Lines"), creating alternative patterns and repetitive motifs.
The patterns were designed in collaboration with Philip Beesley and they were created and crafted on the computer at van Herpen's atelier.
They were then laser-cut into plexiglass molds and vacuum-molded into 3D shapes and successively filled with liquid transparent polyurethane, hand-painted and, in some cases, stitched onto tulle or wool.
These motifs looked like embroidered skeletal elements, scarified landscapes and delicate gills or skin tattoos on an alien body. They also called to mind the shapes of Beesley's early hybrid geotextiles such as "Orgone Reef" or "Orpheus Filter", with their laser-cut acrylic sheets and diffused structures of fronds.
This section of the collection worked better when these high-tech elements were applied to fabric-based materials rather than rubber as they created an intriguing contrast (the cropped jacket and mini-skirt were indeed highlights of the collection).
One of the themes of the collection - the interplay between shadow and light - worked instead pretty well in long gowns in expandable laser-cut Mylar, leather and hand-pleated organza. They created optical illusions as the models walked down the runway and they could be considered futuristic reinventions of Mariano Fortuny's classic pleated pieces, made following the same principles behind Beesley's "Hylozoic Soil" (it must be highlighted that in this collection Iris van Herpen has used most of the processes and materials favoured by Beesley - from laser-cutting to Mylar).
The final designs looked instead as if they were made with broken glass and resonated quite well with the fractured zigzagging white lines of the set designed by artist Esther Stocker.
The dress that closed the show - was it a gigantic snowflake or a massive drop of dew? - looked a bit like a new version of van Herpen's designs from the "Capriole" (A/W 2011-12) collection, that, as you may remember, were surrounded by what looked like a splash of water frozen in mid-air.
Now the process behind this collection may sound rather difficult to grasp even to the most technical minds out there (ask to your fave geek what it means hand-casted transparent polyurethane hand-painted through injection molding and you may not get an immediate answer...), but people familiar with Philip Beesley's work and immersive spaces will understand these pieces much better than your average fashion commentator.
It must be said indeed that while van Herpen's shapes and silhouettes may be repetitive and present sculpted and exaggerated volumes, her technique and her passion for finding new materials is truly innovative and can only be defined as Haute Couture for the future (think about how traditional embellishments such as sequins or embroideries are left behind in favour of modern decorative elements created with state of the art technologies).
One thought lingered post-show: what will happen to the polyurethane-based designs on jellyfish-like transparent rubber in ten or twenty years? Will they deteriorate more rapidly than fabrics or change colour? Time will tell, but, in the meantime, having the money to buy any of these pieces it would be safer to invest in some of the designs combining more natural materials with advanced high tech techniques such as the jacket or the "digital glitch" dress (with cape) made from layers of laser-cut undulating black Mylar fabric. Both these designs incarnate a sort of sci-fi futuristic aesthetic, while harmonising in a convincing way the artificial and natural processes behind Iris van Herpen's collections.