Iris van Herpen in conversation with Cornald Maas,
30 October 2017

[CM:] This evening you have heard a lot about your own work, both from Els van der Plas, the head of the jury, and from the minister, Ingrid van Engelshoven. Did they say anything that particularly struck a chord with you, or that you were particularly pleased to hear?
[IvH:] I really appreciated the fact that it was so personal. I didn’t expect them to have researched my work in such depth. They mentioned all the twists and turns of my career, and that was wonderful.

The Volkskrant has published articles about you, and Trouw published some very nice analysis of your work. You have produced so many different creations. What is it that inspires you when you create something? What's behind that?
Most of it is sheer curiosity, but it is also partly borne out of frustration. I often find myself thinking that we could be doing so much more with what I see around me. I try very hard to make what is invisible, visible.

How do you cope with that sense of frustration when it gets too much?
It’s always about seeking out new techniques, new materials and new partnerships. It’s very important to me to take a step further with each new collection. I see fashion as a very broad concept. I’m always thinking that so much more is possible than what I’m able to do now and what I see around me.

Looking at the dress in front of us now, can you say something about that? What’s it made of?
This dress is made of organza fabric, which we first printed and then pleated. One thing that is typical of my work is that I use traditional materials but also new techniques. The collection you have seen this evening was inspired by the work of Kazuya Nagaya. So it was quite remarkable to see it all together here this evening.

You’re always looking for collaborations and partnerships that would not seem immediately obvious - with scholars from the arts but also from the technology sector. You have told newspapers that distance is something that helps your work. Can you tell us more about that?
All those collaborations were borne out of a fascination with the unknown. I get a lot of inspiration from science, but also from architecture and dance. These are disciplines that have nothing much to do with fashion, but that means that the combination is a good one.

And in terms of the people who wear your work internationally, how does that come about? How do you approach these people? Or do they purchase creations from you?
It can work in both ways - sometimes I approach someone directly and then they ask me to create something for them. Other times I just see international celebrities wearing my work. Then they must have purchased it or found it somewhere.

And how about that contact beforehand? You are very exacting, so do you have your own requirements?
Yes, it has to be my work, so I need to be fully committed to it. So far, nobody has asked me to do anything that I wasn’t fully committed to. I think that people come to me partly because they know my work and already have a certain idea that they think I will be keen to work on.

Is it hard to let go?
I don’t really have to let go - I work with other people. I enjoy working like that, but I also think it’s important to be a part of the process.

Your family members are here - your parents, your grandmother. Did your parents and your family always encourage you? Did they give you the space to do what you wanted to do?
Yes, when I was a child, my family was very supportive and encouraging. I had dance lessons, violin lessons and painting lessons - that was a really big part of my childhood. I knew very early that I wanted to go to art school and they always supported me. I’m really grateful to them for that.

Is your family ever critical of your work? Do they tell you if they are less keen on some of your creations? Or do they let you know in some other way?
My family can be critical yes. They don’t say so directly, but I do notice. Or then again, that could just be my interpretation. But that’s a good thing, I think - it would be strange if they saw everything in the same way as me.

The story that we have just heard from the jury mentioned how you first got started - in your grandmother’s attic. Was that a significant period for you?
I wouldn’t like to make that into some kind of absolute truth. It was a part of my youth, and it was my first experience of clothes that were different from the kind of clothes I’d seen in everyday life. So I do think it was part of where my fascination came from.

Do you have any ideas about what you are going to do with the award money?
Yes, I want to put it towards three projects/developments that I’m currently working on. The first is developing materials in the area of 3D printing combined with handcraft. I already have a fair bit of experience in that area, but I think there’s still a lot more to discover. So I want to take that further. I’m also currently working on my new show in Paris. I'm embarking on a new partnership to work on a new concept, and part of the award money will be going towards that. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you more about that because it's still secret. That will be unveiled in January 2018. I’m also working on a new book about my work. The book will be more about the process. I’ve already produced a number of books with various museums and those were more about the final product. So this book will focus on the process, because for me that’s such an important aspect of my work.

Is that to show students and young people, for instance, how you go about your work?
Yes, and maybe also because the process is so much more important for me than the final product. And actually, so far I've always focused on the end result when communicating about my work. Now I’d like people to know more about the process itself.

How do you manage it? You are 33 years old and you've just become the youngest ever winner of the Johannes Vermeer Award. You have already achieved so much, but you’re not resting on your laurels. Do you ever feel under pressure due to other people’s expectations? Or are you able to shut all that out? How do you deal with it?
Yes, I'm able to shut that out. I think that most of the pressure comes from within me. And the way I handle it is by constantly creating new collections - that’s my way of channelling and expressing all the thought processes that are going on inside my mind.

Finally, I would like to thank Salvador Breed, who is such a big part of everything I do. A number of people from my studio, Paul van As, Petra Schuddeboom and Emma van de Merwe, who are such a great source of support for me. My parents and my grandmother, who are sitting in the audience. I would also like to thank Davy of Spice PR, who has been such a great help from the very start. And the Groninger Museum and the Centraal Museum Utrecht, which have also helped me from the start. And of course, my warmest thanks to the jury. This is such an honour for me, and it is difficult to put into words. Thanks you so very much!