Iris van Herpen Imagines a Fashion Future in Which Clothes Are Only Made on Demand –

So why would we keep holding on to a system that is purely focused on preproduction? That is the big chunk of waste that is being created every season. I don’t know the facts, because I haven’t checked them myself, but they say more than half of all the garments that are being produced are being thrown away even before going into someone’s closet. That is insane when we think about that—and that is happening every single season again.

We are a slow fashion company and we are pretty lucky with customers who give us the time to develop and put effort into innovation and the sustainability of the materials. Making a special product just really takes time. The fastness of communication, like online social media platforms, is really challenging for brands to keep up with [in terms of] production. I think couture is a very beautiful example of almost the opposite of the speed of the world that we’re in today; it’s like art. I’ve always seen fashion as art, and couture as the ultimate example of where art and fashion meet. The couture system is really pure and simple; that’s what attracts me to it. We only create on demand, so every piece that we make in the atelier is ordered and there is no overproduction. I think that is ultimately the system that also can happen for ready-to-wear when we embrace innovation and technology.

My hope is that we’re becoming a world that embraces both live and virtual show formats. I don’t think we should stop with all fashion shows at once; they are creating a really magic moment for the few lucky ones that can be at that show. When I think of my own design parameters, the thing that is most important to me is actually the movement itself, the interaction between the body, the texture, and materiality. When you are seeing that garment in full movement, on a life-size scale, I think that’s a completely essential experience. Most of the detailing, and even most of the dimensionality, cannot be seen on a mobile device, so the work loses so much of the emotion and the integrity that goes into it.

But a medium like VR [virtual reality] really does have advantages, because a lot more people [than can attend a runway show] are able to embrace or see the work up close in an extreme amount of detail, but also within three-dimensionality and within a world that I created from scratch. As an artist, I think that’s a really beautiful blank canvas, and it’s even a much freer canvas than with a fashion show because there are so many rules within a fashion show. Also my work is very collaborative—I work with artists and scientists and architects—and a lot of it is not really possible to bring into that box of a fashion show, so VR really has a lot of possibilities and can create a lot of freedom within creativity. That said, there is a magic to people coming together and celebrating the work of a live person in a live setting, and I don’t think VR will be able to replace that. It’s very important that there are still shows, but again you have to see them as very special moments, like an exhibition that you’re going to and not something that you consume on a daily basis.

For me, the ultimate goal within technology is to use it to collaborate with nature. The current systems within a lot of industries—not only fashion—are built in a way that we abuse the resources of our planet. There are much smarter ways to work and to create. Ultimately all the innovations that we are looking at and we should be embracing are technologies that can actually bring us closer to nature and to make us collaborate with our planet.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.


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