November 26, 2018 By michael
Computers also offered van Herpen a level of complexity that would be otherwise unachievable. Her inaugural 3D-printed range, Crystallization, was the first-ever catwalk collection to feature 3D printing. This collaboration with London-based architect Daniel Widrig was launched in 2010 and produced a series of dramatic, sculptural pieces that were closer to body armour than clothing (one of the collection’s pieces is featured on the cover of this magazine).
Widrig and van Herpen collaborated again in 2011 on the Escapism collection, which this time featured delicate, coral-like forms that were moderately more wearable than their previous work.
But van Herpen’s latest collection, Voltage – shown in January this year – makes real headway towards wearability. The designer worked with Belgium-based 3D-printing company Materialise to develop an innovative new textile that is being billed as the first printable material that is flexible and durable enough to be worn – and to be put in the washing machine.
Called TPU 92A-1, the material was used to print an outfit that van Herpen designed in collaboration with Austrian architect Julia Koerner. A black lacy number, the dress looks like a fine spider’s web woven over the body and appears at first sight as if it is made from delicate textile fibres rather than laser-sintered plastic.
“I wanted people to think the dress was woven or handmade,” says van Herpen. “But if you look closely, you couldn’t have done this by hand. It would have been impossible and that’s why I used 3D printing.”
This kind of collaboration between fashion designers and the materials industry will be essential in future, says Mark Miodownik, professor of materials and society at University College London. “Designers will become materials experts, and vice versa. No one has thought about that too deeply yet, but it’s important.”
“It takes time,” says van Herpen. “You can’t design new materials for every season, but if you’re at least able to create something new every one or two years, then you have more control of your design process, as you’re actually giving direction to the material.”
Van Herpen’s Voltage collection included a second 3D-printed outfit that involved a similarly novel fabric. In collaboration with architect and MIT professor Neri Oxman, she produced a skirt and cape covered in a texture resembling clusters of seashells that was printed using Stratasys’ Objet Connex multi-material printing technology. The garments consist of two entirely different materials, one hard and one soft, that were printed together to provide different performance characteristics.
For the first time, van Herpen was able to specify flexibility within her garments. “We could say, ‘I want the arms really flexible, but then the middle not so flexible and the end really flexible again,’” she explains.
With Oxman’s expertise, van Herpen could also control the colouring by including it within the digital file, rather than adding it at a later stage.