The Fashion Life Scientific – Suzy Menkes

Paris Fashion Week went further than unexpected cuts and fabrics. Science now plays its part with forward-thinking designers – and is changing the face of fashion with experimental materials and extraordinary examples of clothes that go from the laboratory to the wardrobe.

Iris van Herpen: Magnetic Motion

I was mesmerized by the feet, where shoes looked like a wild and wispy growth of seaweed. The “growth” word was accurate. For Iris van Herpen told me backstage, on the top level of the Pompidou Centre, with its sweeping vista of Paris, that those stringy shoes were going to grow as the models walked the runway. Magnetic Motion is the title that this designer, steeped in scientific knowledge, called her collection – the first since she was awarded the French Andam prize, an annual event that had previously discovered Martin Margiela and design duo Viktor & Rolf.

Van Herpen’s skill has been to turn scientific explorations into the reality of wearable clothing. Her belief that all matter ultimately is alive, means that a sorcerer’s mix of chemistry and artistry can theoretically invent new materials for clothing.


But this first outing of Iris’s ideas in a regular catwalk show was too complex to take in. Whereas last season’s models had been trapped in plastic air bags, these women in their sleek black dresses, a scrunch of something’s shiny at the waist, looked well dressed, but did not deliver enough information.

More to the point, I do not know enough about laser cutting and injection molding. I could see that effects at the waist made three-dimensional, high-shine wraps. But even backstage, with Iris standing beside me, I was lost. Living sculpture? This mix of synthetic biology and advanced engineering was beyond me – both in my imagination and in reality.


But maybe I did not need to go back to when Iris visited Cern’s Large Hadron Collider with its “massive magnetic field”.

The point was that many of the outfits were exquisitely made and looked like genuine, wearable clothes. We are not talking Paco Rabanne’s metallic butchers’ aprons, nor Gianni Versace’s metal mesh, taken from airline interiors. Although there was a fluffy mesh dress, it turned out to be as light as the proverbial feather. Another dress with a bell-shaped skirt looked as though ice had been crunched into shape.

Iris van Herpen offers something undisputedly new and different. A catwalk presentation did not do justice to this spring/summer 2015 space odyssey. I wanted to hear Iris’s voice explaining each piece.  But even without that information, the glowing crystals – what she called “living sculptures” – and those growing shoes created the most powerful fashion mix of nature and technology that I have ever seen.

Photo credit: Indigital



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