Extreme Organicism: Iris van Herpen’s Brilliance

IvH, circa SS09.

At the beginning of the summer, Carrie Leilam Love and I brought you a few designers taking Maximalism to new and, at times, extreme heights. The spring/summer runways were all alight with “HOLY SHIT, PATTERNS AND COLORS” moments. Since then, the heat of the summer has settled in and I’ve discovered that I can’t wear a maxi dress without looking like I’m 3ft tall and unintentionally in drag. I’ve also discovered that wearing a shit ton of patterns and colors at once doesn’t work so well at my office, nor does it work so well with my skin tone, nor does it work so well with my body type. But I still like the idea of Maximalism in that way that I like so many things that originate on the runway and then only look good on two people in real life: as a concept. I also like Maximalism because it’s a word that ends in “ism.” I like most “isms” just like I like most “ology” fields of study. If it’s an ology, it’s probably going to make you rethink the ways you’ve been looking at the world which will make you want to work in a field that guarantees a pauper’s income level. If it’s an ism, it’s probably recently discovered and weird and worth checking out.

This fall there’s a new ism on the block, courtesy of one of my favorite couture designers, Iris van Herpen. Guess what! “Van” is a cognate of “von,” but without being indicative of nobility. Sorry, Iris! While I was grabbing photos of all of you readers looking awesome and getting blasted in celebration of our nation’s birth, Iris was in Paris sending skeletal Amazons down the runway in her “Extreme Organicism” designs as part of Paris Fashion Week. Sorry, me!

This Extreme Organicism thing of hers has been evolving for years, but she took it to a level for FW, 11/12.

IvH takes on the XMen, FW, 11/12. On a level.

What IS Extreme Organicism, you ask? Well, it’s haute couture built around the concept of magnified, distorted, and abstracted organic forms. And it’s beautiful.

Architecture, meets ice, meets a fancy pigeon contest.

This detail nearly brings me to ecstatic tears

Van Herpen describes this line as “escapism couture.” It’s “an attempt to explore emotion, optimal tension, and movement,” and it’s  “about creating performative value in design and the spirit of adornment rather than a ‘form follows function’ luxury.” I actually would argue that all haute couture does this. Fashionphobes always love to cite couture as proof that fashion is frivolous, without purpose, and meant to confound. I listen to these people as much as I would listen to someone who believed that sculpture should be function only, or that books should be instructional. The “absurdity” of couture is the wondrous absurdity of imagination.

Fungi dress!

I hate when I hear people say “Who would wear that?” NOBODY! NOT EVEN THE PEOPLE WHO BUY IT! That’s the point! It’s a concept. You can look at it, just as you would look at the play of light on some dappled leaves and let your mind go where it will.

Just because you can put it on your body, that doesn’t make it clothes.


Van Herpen’s designs are fascinating for more than just their beauty, though. There’s a hybrid element of futurity to her organicism that speaks to a technological turning point. Couture has typically been about high handmade craftsmanship, the ability to make a material miracle with the age old tools of thread and needle. Van Herpen continues this tradition–she is a craftsmanship pro–but she also incorporates cutting edge digital technology, creating a sort of technological singularity theory vibe.

One day we will all be part human, part robot  and we will look incredible and be oh so smart and we will have Iris van Herpen’s FW, 11/12 line to thank for the spoiler.


As Ready to Wear became more economically important, haute couture has been marketed more and more to the tiniest, most elite economic bracket because they’re the only ones who can afford to actually BUY couture (which, when it’s made for you, is done so by measurement and with only the finest of materials).  Obviously this totally feeds into the anti-couture argument, but the same can be said of any art. The rich love to have things that they can buy that you can’t. That’s life, man.  But there is nothing that exists that is wonderful that you shouldn’t enjoy yourself. What’s the point of that?!

It’s not exactly like couture is anywhere within range of the hierarchy of needs, so stop being so anarchist punk about fashion, couture naysayers! That’s like refusing to eat delicious food because someone you feel judged by eats that food. SO WHAT, IT STILL TASTES GOOD. EAT IRIS VAN HERPEN.


Til next week!


About Michael von Braithwaite

Does it look like I'd wear it on a boat, at an eccentric person's estate or accompanied by a peacock on a chain? Yeah, I'll probably buy that.


  1. Thomas Page McBee

    I love you.

  2. carrieleilamlove

    Here Here!!

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