Just imagine the glorious day when one of Iris van Herpen and Rogan Brown’s exquisitely otherworldly works of wearable art arrives on our doorstep. (Yes, we are experiencing a shared dream.) What a thrill!!! Impossibly lacy, dazzlingly detailed. Sustainably produced, yet lacking the hemp-y, tie-dyed vibe commonly associated with garden-variety eco-wear. Just straight up, fantastically imaginative couture without the fashion industry guilt.
Well, let’s put that dream on hold for the time being. In the real world, our hole-ridden socks have officially given up the ghost. Hmm. Did you just see that Sweatshop-Socks-R-Us promo? Uncanny timing aside, they’re selling an 18-pack of their top-of-the-line tootsie-toasties for a mere $2.00! Don’t you just love when the universe delivers exactly what we need at precisely the right time?
Iris van Herpen and Rogan Brown surely understand the seductive allure of affordably-priced foot hosiery. There’s certainly a time and a place for planet-friendly haute couture. The rest of the time, however, bring on the fast fashion! It’s positively irresistible. When our new, already unraveling socks cost the same amount of money as a 50-pound bag of dirt, any eco-guilt that we may normally wrestle with quickly goes poof.
Think about the hurdles that Iris van Herpen must have encountered 14 years ago when she first entered the experimental eco-couture game. Selling people on the righteousness of purchasing a $15.00 pair of responsibly manufactured socks may have actually been easier! Still, the Dutch designer had a vision – to create sculpturally avant-garde, museum-quality wearable art pieces that marry technology and innovative thinking with a green conscience.
Without question, Iris van Herpen has solidified her reputation as a masterful manifester of futuristic imaginings. She is, first and foremost, an artist who happens to work in fashion. Her body sculptures are so exquisitely conceived and expertly constructed that it appears as if Mother Nature had a hand in their aesthetic choreography.
Early on, the Dutch designer demonstrated that she could, indeed, create visually decadent garments directly inspired by the marvelous mysteries of the natural world. Her quest to create boundary-pushing, 3D-printed silhouettes that utilize increasingly more revolutionary materials is what has consistently kept her couture label in the spotlight.
To some extent, artisanally crafted haute couture is automatically green. Each piece is created on-demand, thereby dramatically reducing waste. Seamstress teams build individual garments, one precisely hand-stitched component at a time. The result of their combined efforts stands the test of time due to the astounding craftsmanship involved. Anything that emerges from Iris van Herpen’s atelier is worthy of being passed down from generation to generation.
In recent years, though, the Dutch creative has raised the eco-bar by constructing many of her gowns with repurposed Ocean Plastic® courtesy of Cyrill Gutsch’s Parley for the Oceans. The nonprofit environmental organization works closely with a vast collective of ecologically concerned citizens, scientists, scholars, inventors, creatives, and corporate partners to give plastic marine waste a second life. Items such as discarded plastic beverage bottles and fishing nets are reincarnated into a spun fiber. That reclaimed material can then be woven and molded into various types of flexible and rigid material.
The seemingly inelegant green design medium takes on extraordinarily swoon-worthy properties in Iris van Herpen’s Autumn & Winter 2021-2022 “Earthrise” collection. Among the jaw-dropping confections that the designer has conjured, her three-look collaboration with French-British artist Rogan Brown is truly what delicately filigreed dreams are made of. It almost appears as if organic lifeforms have colonized directly upon the swan-like bodies of their supermodel hosts.
Iris hand-picked Rogan due to his expertise in fashioning three-dimensional, intricately surreal hand- and laser-cut paper works. The artist regularly pays homage to the endlessly inspired visual marvels bestowed upon us by Mother Nature. Hardly surprising, his prodigiously detailed, multi-layered sculptures can often require as many as five months to complete. The Dutch couture designer presented him with an entirely new challenge, however. Transform Ocean Plastic® into couture-worthy flourishes that do justice to the Iris van Herpen ethos.
He certainly rose to the occasion. Rogan Brown’s three-piece collaboration includes the “Magnetosphere” dress. Featuring an intricate network of lacy panels that fan out, the look entirely ensconces the body in a symbiotic symphony of feminine resplendence. He also created short and long versions of the “Empyrean” dress and gown. Rogan demonstrated with those frocks that thin sheets of plastic waste – when artfully re-envisioned – can become incredulously astounding wearable sculptures.
Rogan Brown conceived and crafted every delicately wispy bit using a combination of hand-cut and laser-cut Parley for the Oceans reclaimed plastic material. The wearable avant-art pieces that emerged from Rogan Brown and Iris van Herpen’s collaboration – as innovative in concept as they are spectacular in execution – made their official debut during this year’s Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week.
The fragility of our planet has never been more apparent. Naturally, the two artists are under no illusion that eco-couture will single-handedly save the environment. As a whole, the fashion industry drives an endless cycle of production, consumption, and waste. Water pollution (from fabric dyes and chemicals) is just as much of a pervasive concern as ocean-bound plastic particulates. Harvard University reported in late 2020 that 14 million tons of nylon and acrylic microfibers – commonly used to create clothing – are located on the ocean floor.
What Iris van Herpen and Rogan Brown do hope, however, is that their collaborative efforts will trigger an ah-ha moment in our collective conscience. Transforming marine trash into high-end, artfully empyreal treasures underscores the fact that innovation can lay the groundwork for meaningful change. By investing in environmentally sensitive brands that go the extra mile, all fashion consumers can demonstrate that they care just as much about style as they do planetary stewardship.