"It's a really exciting process for me, always, to dive into the unknown," Iris van Herpen tells Vogue.com. She's speaking over the phone from the Netherlands, where she works in a sun-filled atelier producing haute couture and ready-to-wear pieces that push the boundaries between technology, style, science, and craft. Her fans know she's turned the ribs of children's umbrellas into regal adornments, made 3-D printed dresses look like carved crystal, and used hot glue to form a dress that evokes a splash of water captured mid-motion. These items number among the 45 that will be displayed in "Iris Van Herpen: Transforming Fashion" at Atlanta's High Museum of Art. The exhibition, opening November 7, consists of three pieces from each of her 15 Haute Couture collections, arranged chronologically over several galleries. "I think it's a great opportunity for me to show people my work in a different way," says Van Herpen. "In my work I experiment a lot with different disciplines and materials and techniques, and people can really understand in the setting of a museum, because they can go up close and they can see how the pieces are being made. It's very different than seeing it on a runway or in a photo." While her runway shows are among each season's most enticing—Spring 2016 found Game of Thrones's Gwendoline Christie laying on a plinth with a dress seemingly being constructed around her in real time—there's something even more alluring about seeing Van Herpen's creations devoid of the human forms they're inspired by. The focus then becomes the craftsmanship, and in that regard, Van Herpen's innovations are as cutting-edge as it gets today. Her materials include everything from an iron-filled polyurethane resin that can be manipulated by magnets, to the many plastics used in 3-D printing, to glittering Swarovski crystals. If that sounds coldly high-tech, the other side of Van Herpen's creativity is focused on perfecting couture techniques done by hand in her atelier. The marriage of the new and the old, the futuristic and the traditional, can be fraught for both the designer and her audience, but it's in that charged dichotomy where the beauty of Van Herpen's work lies. "Often all these things are really seen in the opposite way; for example, a 3-D printed garment can look like a handmade lace dress, and a very futuristic dress can be completely handmade. I often play with these stereotypes that people have in mind about craftsmanship and technology. I think as a designer or as an artist, if you have full control over your material or your technique, you can go anywhere, and that's what I'm really trying to research within my work. I'm really trying to strip down these prefabricated ideas people have about technology and craftsmanship and materials," Van Herpen explains. To break down these ideas, she works at the forefront of technology. "She's always on," says cocurator Sarah Schleuning, who was first introduced to Van Herpen at a 2012 exhibition of her work at the Netherlands's Groninger Museum, which partnered with the High on this show. "Her brain is active and fertile, and she really wants to be making and taking these ideas and thoughts and visions and turning them into an actuality." Helping to break down the high-mindedness of the techniques and processes Van Herpen uses is a gallery at the end of the exhibit featuring fabric samples from many of the pieces shown, which the designer and her team remade especially for the show. "I think when you go to that section and you feel some of the textures, and you go back to the dress, it looks different because you understand the material better because it's a completely different thing, often, than when you look at it," Van Herpen explains. The High exhibit won't be fans' last chance to see Van Herpen's fusion of craft and technology on display. The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute will include some of her pieces in its exhibition opening next May. "Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology" will explore notions of the man-made versus the machine-made in couture, a theme seemingly tailor-made for Van Herpen.
"Iris Van Herpen: Transforming Fashion" will be on view at Atlanta's High Museum of Art from November 7 through May 15, 2016.