Sunlight fills the lobby of the Anne Cox Chambers wing of the High Museum of Art. The windowed room allows visitors a small taste of Dutch designer Iris van Herpen’s fashion collection, which has been hailed for fusing nature and technology through incredible, futuristic designs.
The lobby holds pieces from three of van Herpen’s collections. The centerpiece, a collection called “Refinery Smoke,” was an attempt to capture the “beauty, the ambiguity, and the elusiveness of industrial smoke,” according to the placard on the wall. The entire collection is made with metal gauze. Originally, the dresses were silver, but exposure to air has changed the color to a burnt, copper color, making the pieces seem alive.
The exhibit continues on the second floor of the wing, showing off more of van Herpen’s collections, along with a ten minute video about van Herpen’s career playing on repeat in the back of the room. During this video, we learn about van Herpen’s dream to create a translucent dress that looked like a splash of water. At the beginning of her career, van Herpen didn’t have access to the 3D printing technology that would allow her to create it. However, since then, her dream has come to fruition as part of her “Crystallization” collection in 2010.
On display on the second floor is the “Synesthesia” collection, inspired by the neurological condition of the same name (synesthesia is a condition in which some sensory perceptions get mixed up. For example, some people associate numbers with certain colors or tastes). This collection mixes metal and leather to create dresses that seek to extend the wearer’s body.
There is more to see on the fourth floor of the Anne Cox Chambers wing. This is the final floor of the exhibit and houses pieces from several more collections. Again, this floor is relatively silent, except for the soundtrack from a video called “Spatial Reverse” playing in the back room. The four minute clip shows models dancing in slow motion in several different designs from van Herpen.
In the back of this floor is an interactive station where visitors can touch some of the materials van Herpen used in her dresses. Sarah Schleuning, the Curator of Decorative Arts and Design at the High Museum, described the collection as an “an incredible fusion of artistic expression, craftsmanship and creativity.”
“Iris’ materials are so innovative that we knew our guests would be interested in how they feel. So, we decided to add that part of the exhibition so visitors could have that tactile experience,” Schleuning said.
Beside the textile station is another sequence of video showing the runway show for each of van Herpen’s collections. The video also shows off several other pieces from the different collections which are not available for display at the High.
Finally, the collections on this floor show off van Herpen’s other inspiration: nature. Van Herpen believes that nature is “the most beautiful thing there is,” and, for her, it is impossible to separate nature from her work. Her passion is clear in her “Wilderness Embodied,” series, which features a selection of dresses that mimic nature, including a dress that looks like moss.
Van Herpen’s enchantment with nature is also present in “Hybrid Holism,” a collection that was inspired by the hylozoic belief that all matter is alive. One dress copies the shape of a coral reef and moves on the model like soft coral moves in currents. It was made through 3D printing and UV treatable polymer, meaning the dress itself will change when exposed to light.
Throughout the exhibit, it is easy to see that van Herpen has realized her vision of combining fashion and technology. Though her work may never reach the red carpet, except maybe by Lady Gaga, van Herpen continues to perfect her work with new material and growing technology. The exhibit at the High Museum is the first time van Herpen’s work has been on view in North America, and Schleuning says the High is “thrilled” to be the first stop on a national tour. Two of van Herpen’s designs, the “Ice” dress from “Magnetic Motion” and the “Honeycomb” dress from “Hybrid Holism,” will be added to the High’s permanent collection at the end of the exhibit.
“We’ve seen great visitation to the museum since the exhibition opened, and our guests seem to really be enjoying the show,” Schleuning said.
The exhibit will be in place in Atlanta until May 15, so there’s still plenty of time to plan visit. There will be one more promotional event for the collection, an open discussion with the director and chief curator of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, Valerie Steele. There will be a full catalogue of van Herpen’s work, along with an extensive interview, is available in the High Museum’s gift shop.
- Only pack essentials. Bringing a big bag or purse will just create a hassle for you and security.
- It’s easiest to follow the exhibit from the bottom, but if you want to go top down, make sure to go through the Anne Cox wing NOT the Wieland wing
- Plan enough time to enjoy the exhibit. I was there for about an hour and a half.
High Museum Address: 1280 Peachtree St NE, Atlanta, GA 30309
Student and Seniors: $16.50
Child (ages 6-17): $12
Child (5 and under): Free
Woodruff Arts Center Parking Lot
1280 Peachtree St NE
First 30 Minutes: FREE
Monday-Friday (7 a.m.-5 p.m.; no hourly rate): $10
Monday-Friday (5 p.m.-7 a.m.): $12
Saturday & Sunday (All Day): $12
High Museum Members: $8
(Note: There is also street parking available near the High Museum for $2 an hour. This parking is limited, though, so it would be best to take public transportation or carpool with someone).