Dutch-born designer Iris van Herpen graduated from the Artez Institute of the Arts in Arnhem, Netherlands, in 2006. After an internship at Alexander McQueen, she formed her own atelier, specializing in haute couture, in 2007, and became a guest member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture in 2011. Van Herpen's interdisciplinary design approach involves collaborations with, architects, scientists, and engineers to produce garments that combine experimental technology with traditional craftsmanship. In 2013 she debuted her pret-a-porter collection, to which she applied similar conceptual techniques and construction methods.

AB Your fashions challenge our expectations of the handmade and the machine made. What role does technology play in your creative process?

IVH I work with technology, but the hand and the machine are equal within my design process-they are totally integrated. I'm not any more or any less attached to a machine than I am to my hands. For me, it's a dialogue. In my process, handwork inspires the pieces that are machined and vice versa. They improve and strengthen one another. I regard machines as tools, just as I regard my hands as tools. I tell my hands what to do, and I tell machines what to do.

AB Even among people who are familiar with your fashions, there is a misperception that most of your work is machined.

IVH Yes, I would agree. But between 70 and 90 percent of my work is done by hand-hand cutting, hand stitching. Even when I use machines, the hand is never absent-a machine needs human hands to operate it. Some designers like to give more autonomy to a machine, especially the computer, but I would never let a computer design any part of my work. I want to control every aspect of my design process. I'm okay with working on a computer, but it's not my favorite way of working because it's two-dimensional and non-interactive. For me, handwork is a form of meditation. It makes me go into another mindset, which can be very fertile for new ideas.

AB How would you describe your process?

IVH It's blended in all directions. In my early collections, I did research on certain materials and techniques. Nowadays, my research and investigations are continuous.

AB So you no longer spotlight a particular material or technique?

IVH I may highlight a few materials or techniques in one collection, but my collections have become more diversified, and the experimentations are broader and more widespread. My interest is in the process of making. It's the reason why I'm in fashion. The process of discovering something new is my ultimate joy. I'm happy when I finish a garment. But it's the process of making it that excites me. I love getting to know a material. If I feel I haven't mastered a material, I will put it aside and wait. For me, I love that turning point of feeling the control of the material-of having it do exactly what I want. That turning point gives me the greatest pleasure in my process.

AB You are best known, perhaps, for your work with 3-D printing.

IVH Yes, my 3-D-printed fashions generate a lot of attention. I'm sure some people think all my work is 3-D printed.

AB What drew you to the process in the first instance?

IVH I'm fascinated with three-dimensionality. And I'm fascinated with movement. I used to dance -that's really my background-and it infuses every aspect of my design process. In fact, if I were to use one word to describe my work, it would be movement. With 3-D printing, you have a lot of different possibilities to explore movement three-dimensionally. Also, the detailing you can achieve with 3-D printing is extraordinary.

AB The detailing?

IVH You have different levels of quality with 3-D printing. From the outset, I've only worked with the best companies. When you look at the first piece I made (pages 114-15), you can see the fine lines of the print. You can see how the piece has been built up. In one millimeter, there are up to ten lines. It's almost like a fingerprint-it's as detailed as your fingerprint.

AB It looks like a fossil.

IVH Yes, it was inspired by the way limestone deposits form shells. With 3-D printing, I am very much drawn to the organic.

AB Why?

IVH I think it's because in organic structures such as fossils, for instance, you have structures that you can't easily replicate by hand. So, automatically, I'm drawn to working with that amount of detail in 3-D printing. It's much more difficult to create an organic structure because, simply put, organic lines are more complex within the computer than straight lines. File-wise, a graphic structure is much easier to achieve.

AB Did you need to adapt your design process when you began working with 3-D printing?

IVH Yes. Before I began working with 3-D printing, I made everything by hand-I didn't even use a sewing machine. So, from the outset, I adjusted my process to the 3-D printer. Working with 3-D printing forces you to make decisions at a very early stage in your process. Normally, when I make a piece by hand, the process of making is actually the design process. As you stitch, you change things and make them better. But with 3-D printing, you have to decide the final look before it's made. The piece comes out of the machine completely finished. It's like giving birth. It was scary in the beginning, but I like it when something is not comfortable.

AB Can you describe your process with regard to 3-D printing?

IVH I start with sketches, which I draw by hand, to figure out the silhouette and proportions. The actual process of modeling and designing is all done on the computer. I work with an architect. It's a strange process. We skype for hours and hours. It's a collaboration. The result is like a two-way drawing. For me, the most difficult part is deciding-down to the very last millimeter-how you want the piece to look without seeing it in three dimensions because the computer screen is two-dimensional.

AB You seem to relish collaboration. As well as architects, you've worked with artists, scientists, engineers, and computer designers. I think this type of collaboration, and the sharing of expertise among specialists in diverse disciplines, is the future of fashion. They'll advance fashion in ways previously unimaginable.

IVH My collaborations are extensions of my ate· lier. For example, I've worked with the architect Philip Beesley, who has an atelier in Toronto. It's a dreamlike place with every type of machine you can imagine. When I discover a new process in my atelier, I share it with him, and he explores it in his atelier. He docs the same with me. Our ateliers are separated by geography, but it's like working in one atelier.

AB Your collaborations with architects are akin to the collaborations with the artisans of the couture, such as Lesage, Lemarie, and Lognon. They're like a twenty-first century version.

IVH I also work those ateliers. For me, it's less exciting because there's an equality of knowledge. They rarely come up with something that triggers my imagination. Scientists and architects challenge me. They make me look at my work differently. They take me out of my comfort zone.

AB As an artist, it's important to be challenged.

IVH It's part of my process. I need to step outside of my routine. It gives me a different perspective.

AB How did you feel when you became a guest member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture?

IVH I was totally surprised. My work falls outside of the traditional parameters of the haute couture. I thought it was very open-minded of the Chambre Syndicale.

AB Yes, that is very reassuring.

IVH Like many designers, I thought you had to make everything by hand in Paris to meet the regulations of the Chambre Syndicale. It made me realize that the haute couture is about craftsmanship, regardless of the types of crafts you employ. Of course it's also about the time that goes into a piece and the amount you produce. If you make two hundred dresses, it is not couture.

AB Do you approach your haute couture and pret-a-porter collections differently?

IVH There is a whole system behind ready-to-wear, especially in terms of production. Everything is thought out differently. You can't work for two months-by hand-on ready-to-wear, but you can with couture.

AB And the fit?

IVH The fit is the biggest problem I have with ready-to-wear. I began with couture, and I love to make a piece that fits the body perfectly.

AB Do you think that the categories of the haute couture and pret-a-porter are still relevant?

IVH They shouldn't be relevant. But the gap between the haute couture and ready-to-wear is too big nowadays. The space in between is what I find interesting. That's where I want to be involved.

AB I love "in between" space. To me, it's where creativity has freedom and autonomy. Do you think technology has a role to play in this in-between, interstitial space?

IVH I definitely think technology could fill the gap between the haute couture and ready-to-wear. In general, people in fashion are very interested in technology. But most companies see it as a marketing strategy. There is not one company in fashion that really embeds new technology, such as 3-D printing, as part of its creative endeavor. The use of 3-D printing is more advanced in design and architecture.

AB Is that because the material lends itself better to design and architecture?

IVM Yes, but in fashion there are some flexible materials within 3-D printing. However, most of them don't look very nice and the quality is not very good. It could be a lot further along if companies were more willing to invest real money. It is most advanced in the medical world because it's the biggest market and it has the biggest investment. In fashion, 3-D printing has to start finding its way into the creative minds of designers as well as into the business minds of company executives.

AB In fashion, I also think that 3-D printing has to become more user-friendly.

IVH I agree. It has incredible possibilities but it needs to evolve further to make it more human-friendly. For instance, it takes a lot of time to create a file for a complex dress, although for a simple dress the process can be pretty quick and you can print it on demand. That's why the 3-D-printing process was originally called rapid prototyping. Once you have the file, it's easy to adjust details. It's much simpler than traditional pattern making. And it's more environmentally friendly than the sewing machine.

AB How so?

IVH With 3-D printing, you don't start with a flat piece of material. Instead, you build the material directly from powder, so you create your shape without any waste. In fashion today there is so much waste in materials.

AB And 3-D printing also creates a lot of possibilities for customization.

IVH Exactly. Today, there is a big market for customization. A 3-D-printed dress can be made to measure for you on demand, and it can be achieved much less expensively than couture.

AB Yes, the 3-D printer could be as revolutionary as the sewing machine, and the jacquard machine beforehand.

IVH Customization is going to become increasingly more important. New technologies will help to evolve niches of mass customization on a quicker timeframe. Today, people want more individuality. They also want more control, and they want products-clothes especially-faster and faster. Technology can help reach that direct level of connection with your customer.

AB Apart from 3-D printing, are there any other technologies that might have an impact on mass customization?

IVH The technology of 3-D knitting is very interesting. But it's still mechanical, which makes it less flexible for customization.

AB Are there any technologies that might have an impact on the future of fashion in general, such as 4-D printing?

IVH I'm very interested in 4-D printing-the idea of engineering a material. So not simply building it but, over time, giving it a behavior. A material, for instance, that is soft and warm in the winter and thin and airy in the summer.

AB What about robotic printing?

IVH I think robotic printing will become more relevant over time. 3-D printing is an over-controlled environment, so part of the process of experimentation is lost. Robotic printing falls in between the impulsiveness of handwork and the deliberateness of 3-D printing. For example, elements such as gravity and velocity can become part of your process. In terms of creativity it's more flexible and therefore, more playful than 3-D printing.

AB Nanorobotics and nanomaterials seem as if they could have a significant influence on fashion.

IVH There is a whole area of research into engineering on a microscopic level in all directions. But many of the technologies, like nanorobotics, are not yet embedded in fashion. I've been working on a project using very small drones, like nanodrones, to make a dress-in a lightweight material-that is not one entity. A dress is often seen from a purely aesthetic perspective, so I'm always trying to generate more freedom within my creative space of what makes a dress interesting. I'm not quite there yet because the technology isn't advanced enough. The control of these little drones will take a year or two to develop into a system that will produce a dress I can control completely in its movement. I've also been working on a nanomaterial, which involves engineering on a very small scale.

AB Nanocngineering seems especially apposite in fabric development.

IVH Yes. One company has made a fabric that bends the light, so you can see through it. At the moment, it's used only by the U.S. Army. There is also a company in the U.K. that has made a material, also used by the U.S. Army, that is so intensely black it absorbs all light. There is no black that even comes close to that amount of blackness. It's like a black hole. Any three-dimensional object coated in the material would become completely flat because there would be no depth.

AB What about metamaterials?

IVH They go one step further. Like nanomaterials, they behave in a completely different way than any material we know today. But we're not there yet­they're maybe ten or twenty years into the future.

AB With nanoengineering and metamaterials, can you foresee a future within fashion whereby clothes as we know them will not only look different but will also function differently? That is, a future in which both the pragmatics and components of dressing are brought into question?

IVH I think nanoengineering and metamaterials will probably create completely new behaviors. As designers, we don't realize how much of our designs are dictated by materials and their behavior, Instinctively, a designer knows how a seam will work, that there will be gravity, that there will be a certain amount of transparency. So, imagine a material that makes you completely invisible. As a designer, it's almost unthinkable how metamaterials will change the design process. In fashion, those changes are going to be even more radical than the techniques of making clothing.

AB What is your position on biotechnology-the fusion of biology and technology?

IVH It's starting to get very serious, and it's something I'm very interested in exploring. If you look at biology, it's a hundred times more complex than technology. So where biology and technology come together is fascinating. But I'm also a little scared of biotechnology because of its possible uses in social engineering. I do see a lot of potential, however, in materiality.

AB Fear and clothing. That would be a good theme for an exhibition. In the history of fashion, there are many examples of anxiety, even terror, surrounding technology, despite the fact that fashion and technology are inextricably connected.

IVH Within our current technological revolution there is a lot of fear. Technology can be used in very wrong, and in very dangerous, ways. But every tool can be used for the good or the bad. It's what people do with them, that's the choice. But I am a positive thinker and I believe that, in the end, everything will balance out. In my own work, I do believe that technology should be as invisible as possible.

AB This idea of the invisibility of technology is a fundamental premise of the exhibition. In fashion, technology has become synonymous with "wear­ables," but for me technology is a creative tool-it's not a functional end product. The show focuses on "fashion in an age of technology," not fashion and technology per se. It examines materials and techniques that have had realistic-and practical-applications within fashion, such as laser cutting, which is a practice that you have used to great effect in your work.

IVH Yes, many of my pieces are embedded with laser cutting. One of my favorite pieces from my most recent collection (spring/summer 2016 pret-a-porter) was a dress with an overlay of cotton lace hand-woven with laser-cut leather applique (pages 143, 145). Some materials are better to cut by a laser than by hand. Leather is one of them. The patent-leather dress from my spring/summer 2015 ready-to-wear collection, called "Magnetic Motion," was entirely laser cut (pages 140-41). I use a lot of leather in my fashions. I like the fact that each skin is different. Leather is so natural, so formable, that you can give it your signature. Some materials don't want to be changed that much, but leather wants to be changed. It asks for it. Going back to your question about synthetic biology, I'm sure you've heard about Modern Meadow, where leather is grown in a laboratory. At the moment, I don't think we're going to see it being used to produce garments. But it has the potential to radically change the way leather behaves. Leather won't come in small pieces anymore. You will be able to grow it by the meter, grow it to wrap around an object, and even grow it to be transparent. It can be completely seamless.

AB On the subject of "growing," you often describe the dress you made in collaboration with Jolan van der Wiel from your autumn/winter 2013-14 haute couture "Wilderness Embodied" collection as having been "grown" (pages/74-75).

IVH Yes, that dress has a base made from cotton fabric. Then there is a rubber component-a soft rubber-in which we place metal powder. When you mix everything together, the rubber has a few minutes when it is still wet and soft. We pour the rubber onto the cotton fabric. Then we place magnets above and below, and you see the metal powder grow piece by piece-in a matter of seconds-before it sets. The coloration is exquisite because while the rubber is still wet and soft we add a very thin enamel powder that has iridescent qualities. Depending on the light, you see green, purple, yellow-it's all very subtle.

AB How beautiful. Going back to laser cutting, are there any other materials that lend themselves to the technique?

IVH Acrylic, which I use a lot in my work. The acrylic strips I used in the dress from my spring/summer 2012 haute couture collection, called "Micro" (pages 111, ll3), were all laser cut. The edge of every strip was printed by hand with black lines.

AB It looks like plisse.

IVH Yes, the piece does look pleated. I love using nontraditional materials to evoke traditional techniques. Basically, it's plisse but done differently. To me, plisse is about layering and using those layers to create flexibility and movement. And this dress does that exactly.

AB As well as using acrylic to evoke pleating, you've also used silicone rubber to evoke feathers?

IVH Correct-Dragon Skin silicone. I used it for the "bird" dress (pages 217,219) that I made in collaboration with Cedric Laquieze for my "Wilderness Embodied" haute couture collection. The process is very complicated. We start with pouring the silicone ourselves because we want to achieve an exact color as well as an exact thickness and flexibility. We make large sheets, which dry overnight. The balance has to be perfect. Not too thin, nor too thick. And not too dry, not too sticky. When we're happy with the consistency, we start the process of laser cutting. We laser-cut strokes, and we do two strokes at the same time. But the process is extremely time consuming.

AB Because of the density of the material?

IVH Yes, and because it also takes a lot of time to clean the silicone, which is almost black after it's been laser cut. Once the sheets have been cleaned we stitch them by hand to the fabric of the base dress.

AB How many sheets make up the dress?

IVH I'm not sure, but a lot.

AB What about the birds?

IVH They're made from the same fabric as the base dress with a small cage inside, and then attached directly to the dress. All the feathers are attached by hand. And the heads are real bird-head skeletons coated in silicone, with glass eyes and pearls. They're made by the artist Cedric Laquize here in Amsterdam.

AB How does the dress move?

IVH It moves like feathers. The nice thing about silicone is that there's some weight to it and it's sort of wobbly, so it wants to move.

AB What about the acrylic "feathers" in the dress you made in collaboration with Bart Hess from your spring/summer 2009 "Radiation Invasion" collection (pages 221, 223)? Were they also laser cut?

IVH They were all hand cut.

AB Incredible. Every "feather" looks so perfect-so regular and uniform. The hand/machine dichotomy often presents the hand as imperfect and the machine as perfect. The implication being that the hand is expressive and spontaneous and the machine is detached and undemonstrative.

IVH I love that dialogue because, in actual fact, garments made by machines are not perfect. There is not one 3-D-printed piece or one laser-cut piece that I've produced that doesn't contain a mistake. As with pieces made by hand, they're a little bit off. A printer, a laser cutter, the hand-each is just a tool for assembling different parts together.

AB Errors are what move fashion forward.

IVH Yes, and they have humanity-both the errors of the hand and the errors of the machine. We like to see things that we can relate to, and we all relate to mistakes.