Iris Van Herpen, Lady Gaga’s favorite fashion designer, has just out-weirded herself: for her show last Tuesday at Paris Fashion Week, she zipped models Iekeliene Stange and Soo Joo Park into plastic bags and shrink-wrapped them, installing them on the runway hanging from racks. Curled in fetal positions and hooked up to oxygen tubes like umbilical cords, the vacuum-packed women looked like specimens in a freakish alien experiment. Van Herpen collaborated with Belgian artist Lawrence Malstaff, who’s been vacuum-packing himself since 2011 in a popular installation called Shrink.
Perhaps more than any other designer today, Van Herpen poses provocative questions through the art of clothing. In this latest collection, called “Biopiracy,” she investigates whether we are the sole proprietors of our bodies. “It’s almost like [the model is] a product,” Van Herpen said in a recent video interview, “but I think that’s the whole idea behind biopiracy.”
The shrink-wrapped models certainly didn’t seem to own their own bodies, rather they looked like they’d been manufactured at a plant (and they looked pretty freaked out). The whole set up highlighted the voyeurism that’s inherent in fashion shows. Visitors come to ogle runway models whose bodies are so often treated as public property.
The claustrophobic plastic bag installation made the sky-high shoes Van Herpen debuted look as comfortable as Keds in comparison. Designed by Dutch shoe brand United Nude, and 3-D printed in a collaboration with Julia Koerner, the crescent-shaped boots have staggering seven-inch platforms. They cover the shins but expose the calves, transforming the silhouette of the human leg into something like a massive hoof.
“For me, technology is not a source for inspiration, it’s like a tool for transforming your techniques,” Van Herpen said. “In fashion, you’re not only trying to show the clothes, but to show a story.” The stories Van Herpen tells through clothes are often about our fraught relationships with technology–how something we invent can come to exert its own Frankensteinian power. “Technology and new ways of doing things always gain a certain power,” she says. “It really depends what you do with that tool. For example, if I were to 3-D printed my entire ready-to-wear, maybe people would illegally download all the files. You never know.”