Gallery: Iris van Herpen Debuts World’s First 3D-Printed Flexible Dresses

It wasn't just metaphorical electricity that coursed through the air at Iris van Herpen's show at Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week on Monday. The Dutch designer's 11-piece collection, dubbed "Voltage," featured a living statue stationed on the runway like a weather-controlling Galatea, purple lightning crackling from her hands and head. The clothes proved just as rousing. Inspired by a "childhood dream, a desire to understand control and recreate lightning," van Herpen trotted out a series of unearthly frocks that shuddered and breathed like they had lives of their own, as well. Among them were what van Herpen deemed the "first 3D-printed flexible dresses": a dramatic skirt and cape created in collaboration with MIT Media Lab's Neri Oxman, and an intricate dress developed in conjunction with Austrian architect Julia Koerner.

PREVIOUSLY ON ECOUTERRE: Are 3D-Printed Fabrics the Future of Sustainable Textiles?

Iris van Herpen, 3D printing, wearable technology, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, green fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style, Paris Fashion Week, Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week


Van Herpen and Oxman’s ensemble was the product of Stratsys’s “Objet Connex” multimaterial 3D-printing technology, which the company says allows a variety of material properties—both hard and soft—to be produced in a single build.

Van Herpen considers 3D-printing not just an experiment but an eventuality.

“The ability to vary softness and elasticity inspired us to design a ‘second skin’ for the body acting as armor-in-motion; in this way we were able to design not only the garment’s form but also its motion,” Oxman explains. “The incredible possibilities afforded by these new technologies allowed us to reinterpret the tradition of couture as ‘tech-couture’ where delicate handmade embroidery and needlework is replaced by code.”

Van Herpen and Koerner, on the other hand, enlisted the aid of Materialize, a Belgian developer of rapid-prototyping software, to create a complex, lace-like material using laser-sintering techniques.

“The architectural structure aims to superimpose multiple layers of thin woven lines which animate the body in an organic way,” Koerner says. “Exploiting computational boundaries in combination with emergent technology selective laser sintering, of a new flexible material, lead to enticing and enigmatic effects within fashion design. New possibilities arise such as eliminating seams and cuts where they are usually placed in couture.”

For van Herpen herself, fashion can and needs to be more than consumerism. “[Fashion is] also about new beginnings and self-expression, so my work very much comes from abstract ideas and using new techniques, not the reinvention of old ideas,” she says.

The designer considers 3D-printed textiles not just an experiment but an eventuality. “I find the process of 3D-printing fascinating because I believe it will only be a matter of time before we see the clothing we wear today produced with this technology, and it’s because it’s such a different way of manufacturing, adding layer by layer, it will be a great source of inspiration for new ideas,” she adds.

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