The Female da Vinci in Fashion: What Iris Van Herpen Showed Contemporary Couturiers About Innovation

The gap between science and art ceased to exist in the Dutch designer’s spring 2019 line.

Think Edwin Hubble meets Vincent Van Gogh – in 21st-century couture, Iris Van Herpen comes to mind as a modern visionary. Whether you work as an aerospace engineer or label yourself as a post-impressionism connoisseur – anyone can admire her innovation and creativity.

Van Herpen stunned the world with her spring 2019 collection named “Shift Souls,” which integrated concepts from astronomy in wearable art. Her celestial-inspired line and light-up heels rose to Instagram fame, and Vogue commented on how her whimsical collection “might translate to greater visibility for Van Herpen; and with two full days of shows to come, it set the bar high.”

The Vision

When looking for inspiration, novice couturiers often rely on divergent thinking and dismiss considering concepts in STEM. However, in times of technological advancements and scientific discovery, designers should look to pull abstract ideas from quantitative concepts and real-world problems. Van Herpen’s memorable show proved that the most cutting-edge designers reach success by working like both scientists and artists.  



For Shift Souls, Van Herpen worked alongside Kim Keever, a former NASA engineer, to design translucent organza gowns and face-molding metal jewelry. Van Herpen contrasted hard and soft elements, such as pairing structured silhouettes with light pastels, to toy with overlapping of science and art. Rippling fabrics mirrored elongated brush strokes of an early 1900s painting, and geometric shapes resembled patterns found in star charts.



Commencing the show, a barefaced model, drowned by a sea of sapphire blue folds, gracefully walked down the catwalk in an off-the-shoulder gown.  Long kimono dresses came out on the runway until the transitioning into opaque above-the-knee dresses. Layers of sheer fabric, outlined by prominent black lines, molded the shorter looks into radial silhouettes that mimicked planets’ orbital routes. In addition to jewel-toned solids, analogous and complementary ombrés illustrated galactic colors on garments. The elegant textiles and linear motifs sent waves of calming energy into the audience and, moreover, exhibited Van Herpen’s mastery in using science as a part of her creative vision.


The show took a dramatic turn once the lights dimmed and models entered the catwalk for their final walks. During the finale, the runway transformed itself into a sci-fi setting. Watching in awe, audience members saw glow-in-the-dark heels strut across the stage to conclude the “shift” in Shift Souls. Through juxtapositions between design and engineering in addition to presenting a futuristic feel – Shift Souls perfectly captured the dissonance and beauty in outer space.


Similar to how the Renaissance man relied on ratios to build a balanced composition in The Last Supper, the Dutch couturier used astronomical concepts to design one-of-a-kind eye candy in Shift Souls. Couturiers need not to include glow-in-the-dark shoes to have a ground-breaking collection, but designers who find means of having STEM as the basis of their craftsmanship are respected as both creators and problem solvers. Vogue praised the Van Herpen for her success in Shift Souls, as she is one of the few contemporary couture designers celebrating discovery and exploration. Though traditional couture laws remain static, failure to follow pioneering visionaries like Van Herpen could mean jeopardizing credibility as an innovative couturier in years to come.