Iris Van Herpen: Couture SS23

Carte Blanche. It’s a French turn-of-phrase that literally translates to either “blank document” or “unconditional authority/full discretionary power”, but when handled by Iris Van Herpen, it evolves to mean “complete freedom”. It alludes to, “acting as one wishes”, Herpen explained in an interview. “[Carte Blanche] is ultimately the purest extraction of this film, portraying bravery and celebrating female ownership of beauty.” 

In that vein, she named her SS23 couture collection after the liberated expression, signalling for mechanically magnificent designs to be displayed in a nuanced way. So, rather than a runway, she presented the collection via a liquid digital film created in collaboration with French artist Julie Gautier, whom Herpen has long admired. “There is a poetry of beauty and strength resonating in her,” Herpen said of her decision to enlist Gautier. “We‘re both female artists in very challenging daily environments, and we believe that creativity can create a meaningful change. Merging her body language and my design language, we felt we could support an important story in our own way – without words – and inspire others to keep on going, create awareness and to continue to persevere in their personal difficulties.”

Shot underwater, the poignant film and fashion’s alike were inspired by womanly bravery, painting a picture of female beauty as a form of control. Through submersion and dance, the dynamics between oppression and resilience are explored, diving into the way women’s bodies have been used as a weapon to oppress and control throughout history. Herpen’s designs play with notions of duality, veiling and unveiling the body as if it were hiding and rising itself. A heart-shaped, corseted mini dress is a technical wonder, otherworldly and swirling like ethereal bacteria borne from the deep sea. “It’s feminine and sensual and the textures echo growth,” she explained, “connecting growth and strength together.”

The collection is intricately constructed – the film is divine – leaving a lasting imprint on the minds of all who view it as it is able to be perceived over and over again. Herpen said, “This story needed to be told through film; I could not embody this on a runway.”

It’s also an ode to the strength of Iranian women. In general, but also in the midst of the perilous protests tackling women’s rights violations and freedom of expression in the country, as their bodies serve as a battlefield for ideology and authority. “I have been following the demonstrations in Iran closely and with pain. I feel very strongly that this is not a local fight, it is a global issue,” Herpen declared. “I want my designs and community to be a voice for female strength and courage… It feels important to connect the women in Iran to all the women in the world, as together we are a dazzling four billion and if each of us supports female equality on a small scale, we’ll be invincible.” 

One key look in the collection is made from hair: “The beauty of women can be used to oppress; the symbol of hair in Iran and their full body coverage are examples of that,” Herpen articulated. “This design expresses how beauty can become a symbol and a tool to reclaim freedom.” 

Herpen and Gautier together wanted “to show the strength of beauty and the importance of having ownership and freedom to reveal it; to own, explore and express your body in a way that is personal to you,” Herpen explained. “As a woman myself, I now realise my upbringing has given me that human right and this freedom has given me the courage and strength to build my own creative universe through my work. The freedom one has on a most personal level is radiated throughout all the layers of life.”

Video by Julie Gautier.

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