Jesus, I love how the Dutch come at fashion.
I get a thrill from technology being used to create some otherworldly magic.
This IRIS VAN HERPEN X PHILIP BEESLEY exhibition was made for me. And honey, in the age of Off White (and the absolute HORROR of their clear suitcases), fast fashion and (shudders) commerciality, we all need a little magic and sparkle. To refresh and reset and remember that there are artists out there creating something important.
This is an on-going exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum, the ROM. I make a point of visiting regularly because their feature exhibitions, in particular, tend to be wonderful (just go at like 10am on a Tuesday, before the strolled brigade arrive!).
I’ve seen artifacts from Pompei, spent an hour in the world of Vikings and flitted through line-ups of Christian Dior’s finest looks. Sometimes your soul needs feeding through your eyes, folks.
And Lord, does my eyes crave some relief. I’ve been over Wang. I think Virgil Abloh is a fantastic marketer. I’m sick to the teeth of umbrella companies like Kering coming in and stomping every ounce of art out of these designers. I need my faith restored, because things are lookin’ bleak.
Couture in the traditional sense, is dying. Their clientele is shrinking. It’s becoming as outdated as balls and tails (the suits, not what’s attached to a puppy). Should we cleave to it in hope of prolonging the ordeal? Fuck that, fashion is forever hanging on to the old … hi Karl, you sexist, bearded asshole.
Turn your eyes to the true artist – not the technicians, the petite mains, for whom I have incredible respect – who are pushing this floundering area of the industry forward. And look too to those strong enough to wear it. That’s what Dior embodied, flowing in with his New Look in post-war Europe. Today’s ‘classics’ are yesterday’s enfant terrible, and you know I love a badass!
Some background on the artists:
IRIS VAN HERPEN
- She interned at Alexander McQueen out of college … yep, while I was flopping around Dublin having a quarter-life crisis, she was working alongside one of the greatest designers of all time (fight me on that, I dare you!).
- Her radical use of material and technique she calls ‘New Couture’, and yes she shows at Couture Fashion Week in Paris.
- Seven of her looks were shown at the Manus vs Machina themed Met Gala in 2016.
- She’s worked with Bjork (hellooo!), Tilda Swinton and Daphne Guinness, the triad of fashion wonder.
“If I were to use one word to describe my work, it would be movement
as one of the most influential things in my life has been my classical ballet practice. Through dance I learned about the seduction of movement, the transformation of the body and the ‘evolution’ of shape. Those years taught me how to shift shape and were the birth of my interest in fashion.
I don’t think of fashion as being clothes, or a discipline. I think of it being much more. I see fashion as a dialogue between our inside and our outside.
For me fashion is a form of art that is close related to me and my body. I see it as a very personal expression of identity combined with desire, mood and culture.”
- His most recent work has been around interactive sound, light and movement with distributed control systems e.g. in this exhibition, his creations were activated by my pattern of walking!
- He and his studio are working on extreme light-weight materials and embedded sensors … he’s creating architecture that works with humans.
- His studio’s current collaborators include Rachel Armstrong (metabolism lead at Newcastle Uni), Salvador Breed (sound artist), Rob Gorbet (electrical engineer) and Dana Kulic (adaptive systems).
The exhibition is split into two sections. There’s a retrospective of Van Herpen’s work over the years, split by collection. Here her works, and accessories, are almost close enough to touch. You can get all up in that motor-chain dress and that 3D-printed number. It’s a phenomenal chance to get to see some very special craftsmanship up-close.
If, like me, you thing 3D-printing is incredible (lads, you can PRINT a neanderthal skull from National Geographic … you can HOLD it!), there’s even samples lining the walls to touch and feel. Then turn around and see how Van Herpen worked it into an amazing dress.
Then there’s the collaborative section where her designs and his magic touch with technology dance together.
There’s magic in this room and it’s hard for me to put it entirely into words because atmosphere was essential. But let me try …
The soundtrack is water dripping into a pool, it’s all very calming. Van Herpen’s designs are collected in groups of three. Beesley’s work is all your eyes want to see.
Suspended from the ceiling are little white ‘birds’, all feathery and soft. Scattered among them are vials filled with coloured liquid. Small lights flicker (see my video above for an idea what on Earth I’m on about).
As you pass beneath this creation – which is at once beautiful and creepy because the mechanism is visible beneath the feathers – the fluffy arms react and retract. Movement sensors create an interactive, responsive installation that it took me a while to form an opinion on. That’s because it’s delicate. We’re so used to technology bounding into our lives, telling us what we want and need. But here, with Beesley, it’s technically getting out of my way.
Around the corner, behind a standing wall, are several more of these installations. Ranging from a trickling sparkle, falling from the ceiling, to a boisterous sphere, a sea urchin, with a centre that reacts to wind.
I am in no way equipped to discuss the technicalities of Beesley’s work. I’ll make a mess of it. But what I am very happy to tell you is that I had a strong, emotional response to this exhibition.
The softness created around wires and cage-like couture. The blending of skills to create an immersive experience. To see something that my eyes have truly never seen before. If you are in or around Toronto, I can only hope you’ll take a couple of hours to visit.
If you’re not close by, please consider supporting your most local galleries. They may not be showing Goya’s or DaVinci’s but they often tap in to what’s happening locally. Take a hour a month and check out their feature exhibition. Support the artists in our community.
Because, and I truly believe this, without art there is no growth. We stagnant. We aren’t challenged. We’re not learning. Creativity is vital, it’s our lifesblood, it’s our problem-solver. It’s our magic.