Review of Iris Van Herpen

Spring 2023 Couture Fashion Show

Review of Iris Van Herpen Spring 2023 Couture Fashion Show

Carte Blanche, an extraordinary sensual narrative of the strength of femininity

By Lizzy Bowring

Dusting off the fallout from a year of profound negativity, 2023 has begun with notes of positivity, and none more so than the fashion industry’s new season, full of references and ideas reflecting a new era’s backdrop. Fashion’s creatives are utilizing their inventiveness to bring about positive change, and as we enter Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week, that messaging is palpable. Fashion has become a key instrument of expression, and none more so than in celebrating women’s strength, resilience, and feminine beauty.

Today, Iris Van Herpen presented her latest collection in a film titled” Carte Blanche.”

This sensual story is a powerful pictorial essay on the strength of the female body and its ability to take control and fight back. And so, in a short movie, the storyline evocatively portrays the theme in a unique parody of choreography and free-diving, that leaves the viewer lingering in the memory. 

“In the beginning, three women are melted together into a painting of skin, textures of growth and decay. The red heart of this female drifts down alone into the deep depths of her consciousness where she dances a journey of isolation and oppression, moving into resilience and invincibility.” – Iris 

The soundtrack felt eerily calming; the clothes at once one with the women as they dance in the depths of the water, while the carefully crafted materials ebb and flow around the female forms like liquid silk caught in the movement of the water, the hair naturally cascading in time and shape. When all appears to be calm, there is a moment when seemingly at one with herself, the woman seems to scream, bringing a fierce intensity through her dance. To Van Herpen,” the medium of water is the symbolism of having no speech; this is related to the situation in Iran, where people have been muted, and their voices are taken away.” As the liquidity of dance continues, the emotion tangibly flows through the film. It ends serenely with the three women rising to the surface to float together, gently, supported by their own strength and power.

The inspiration for the film came as a natural thought process. The French artist Julie Gautier inspired Van Herpen to create a movie. She had seen one of her projects called AMA,  a powerful film dedicated to the strength and resilience of women worldwide.

“I started following Julie Gautier’s work more closely, and then, I realized this was the right moment to start having a conversation about our work. Gautier is a dancer, which adds to the profound connection between the two women. “It felt inspiring how she combines disciplines of free-diving with dancing but also brings in a deeper layer.

“It felt inspiring how she combines disciplines of free-diving with dancing but also brings in a deeper layer. It felt very close to how I work as a designer, so we started to talk about our work and doing something together. From the choreography, telling the story, and the visuals, these have all come out of our dialogues”. 

Water has always formed a ‘base layer’ of Van Herpen’s work, which she loves exploring.

In the film, one could appreciate how she worked in this medium, presenting colours that glowed ethereally in prisms of blue, red, and amethyst. For Van Herpen, the water became a lens for colour. At the same time, images, too, appeared transformed through the movement of the water,  “the colours are so much more beautiful and alive underwater than above water, so that was a beautiful exploration”.

The materials were just as ethereal, although based on her sustainability ethos, these were materials – silk, glass silk, polyester – that were used previously. Still, she used them differently so the textures would come alive like beautiful underwater creatures. She also brought in new elements, such as hair, where female hair becomes a symbol of beauty.

“I think that was the biggest challenge in these garments, to make them look beautiful underwater as above water”. Van Herpen need not worry about that, the imagery was stunning and reflected her incredible craftsmanship and attention to detail.  The film is a visually stunning display of her sensibility to a storyline, colors, textures, and patterns. 

Everything about this new collection evoked something extraordinarily deep for Van Herpen. “It is about the personal approach to femininity and the struggles that come with it. I wanted to make something more profound and to create an ode to everyone that is fighting at the moment for equality. Therefore, I chose the medium film because it needed that narrative to embody the symbolism in the storyline. We also want the film to inspire everyone on a creative level; that can also be our point to support each other. It is a challenging journey, even in the fashion world that is seemingly male-dominated. My journey has not been easy, so we wanted to bring different perspectives into everyone’s own relationship to inequality, diversity, and inclusivity. A balance is needed to have different attitudes toward femininity and understand what that means.

Van Herpen can dive deep into every nuance, her storytelling as meaningful as the clothes she creates. She is extraordinary, her thought process soul-searching and honest, and her visionary creativity surreal. One can not help being caught up in the depth and intensity of her artistic skill and storytelling in this film.

Iris, along with Gautier and Van Herpen’s cast of artisanal creatives and dancers, has taken this to a supernatural level. And through their art, these female artists inspire others to use their talents to create meaningful change. After all, change is the only constant in life.

Carte Blanche, (the literal translation, clean slate) dives deep into this season’s pertinent narrative of the connection with femininity. It is a testament to how women can use their physicality and strength to resist oppression, fight for their rights, and encourage others to persevere in their journeys. A pure expression with a much more complex and layered storyline, the film reminds us of the dynamics that exist in the world and the ultimate freedom we should all have, complete freedom to make our own decisions.

Fashion Editor - London | The Impression
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