For Iris Van Herpen, whose radical couture dresses have attracted top musicians like Bjork, Beyonce and Lady Gaga, fashion is a way to "transform a human being".
The Dutch designer, 39, spoke in an interview Tuesday (Nov 28) as she launched an exhibition of her work, "Iris Van Herpen: Sculpting The Senses", at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris.
The opening was attended by Queen Maxima of the Netherlands, wearing one of the designer's creations, and France's first lady, Brigitte Macron.
"Fashion can be an intellectual expression, something that goes beyond beauty," Van Herpen said.
"It can be connected to all the layers of life... to architecture, to science, to biology, to nature, to everything that matters," she added.
Van Herpen has been a pioneer in fusing a broad range of technologies with couture.
She was one of the first to present 3D-printed dresses, and has borrowed ideas from microscopic photography, deep space imagery, architecture and many other fields.
"It's a very important piece for me, because it was the first real (3D) print I made in 2010," Van Herpen said, displaying a swirling, digitally-printed white dress made from polymer and eco-leather that she designed along with architect Daniel Widrig.
"Before, I only focused on traditional crafts, but this is when I started collaborating with architects and scientists. I started not only drawing inspiration from these disciplines, but to work with them, and that really raised the level of my clothing," she added.
Among the other trippy pieces are items that look like intricately detailed skeletons, shimmering dresses based on images of the cosmos, and floaty outfits that resemble plankton blooms in the sea.
The perennial question for any haute couture designer: are these clothes really wearable?
"Oh yeah, absolutely," Van Herpen insists.
"I have a background in dance, so I really think about movement when I create, it's about a transformation of the body."
'Finesse and complexity'
Growing up in the Dutch countryside, she trained in classical and contemporary dance from a young age.
That has helped her work with performers such as Beyonce and Lady Gaga.
"They are very powerful women who have their own universe. Obviously when I design for them, I have to think of them in motion -- they will be dancing on stage. I love thinking about their way of moving, their way of dancing."
Van Herpen has participated in haute couture week in Paris for more than a decade, and experts say she is one of the most memorable new names of recent times.
"She holds a resolutely separate place in the history of fashion," said fashion expert Cloe Pitiot, combining "finesse and complexity, but also poetry and philosophy".
Christine Macel, director of the Museum of Decorative Arts, said Van Herpen is creating a legacy to match Alexander McQueen, with whom she trained.
"She has created an extremely strong and unique universe which has no imitators," Macel said.
The exhibition runs until April 28. – AFP