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Haute couture designer Iris Van Herpen opens up about her life, work and fashion

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Haute couture designer Iris Van Herpen opens up about her life, work and fashion
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Dutch fashion designer Iris Van Herpen is regarded as one of the industry’s most forward thinking creators.

She’s one of only 10 designers who can call their brand haute couture and at Arab Fashion Week in Dubai she was presented with a lifetime achievement award.

The 35-year-old started her label in 2007 and describes her work as “a form of art”.

Her designs have featured in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and the Palais de Tokyo in Paris.

She spoke to Euronews about fashion, gender fluidity and the banning of the burqa in her native Holland.

JANE WITHERSPOON, EURONEWS: How does it feel to be at Arab Fashion Week here in Dubai?

IRIS VAN HERPEN, FASHION DESIGNER: I'm really excited to be here. It's really a special place. It's my second time here only. So I want to be here more often. But the fashion scene here is so alive and it's so much looking forward into the future, into exploring new ways of looking at fashion. And I really feel, yeah, my work is a good fit here.

JANE WITHERSPOON: Where do you think Dubai sits as a fashion capital?

IRIS VAN HERPEN: A lot is happening here and I think it's becoming stronger and stronger. And I could really see it as a fashion capital.

JANE WITHERSPOON: In terms of the economy, especially the local economy, you know, the industry drives so much money into the region. Why is it an important part of life, this industry?

IRIS VAN HERPEN: I think it creates our identity. I really see fashion as a laboratory of our identity, and I think fashion should inspire to create ourselves. And I think it's really a big part of our culture. It's who we are and what we stand for. It expresses so much language that is unspoken. I think you can directly communicate to each other your values and your way of looking at life through deciding what to wear. And I think that's a really powerful message.

JANE WITHERSPOON: Fantasy couture has been the label used to describe your work. How would you describe it?

IRIS VAN HERPEN: In my perception, it's a form of art. I think couture is the art of fashion. And it's innovative, it's collaborative. I really like working with other disciplines to release your knowledge, to make fashion more intellectual. To really embrace all the different sides of society into one medium.

JANE WITHERSPOON: How have you seen the industry change and grow over the years since you got into it?

IRIS VAN HERPEN: I think it's a very exciting time we live in. Fashion is becoming much more inclusive, much more open minded, much more democratic, much more diverse, much more sustainable, which is really important as well. It's especially on the sustainability side, still, a lot needs to happen.

JANE WITHERSPOON: How do you embrace sustainability within your craftsmanship?

IRIS VAN HERPEN: Well I'm focused on haute couture, which is I think already the base for sustainability, because you only create on demand and you're not part of a waste based system. And next to that, I'm working together with scientists, biologists, architects and artists to improve the way I make fashion so the techniques are being reinvented and also the materials we are often creating ourselves. So trying to reduce the footprint.

JANE WITHERSPOON: As a businesswoman, how challenging has it been for you to get your brand up and off the ground?

IRIS VAN HERPEN: Well, it has been a challenge, and I think it's not always easy anyway to start up a brand, but also being a woman, of course, it's an even bigger challenge. And I really like working in a female team. Most of my company is female. So that's my little message to the world, that there are so many amazing women to work with that I like bringing that into my company.

JANE WITHERSPOON: Do you think the gender balance issue still needs to be addressed within the industry?

IRIS VAN HERPEN: Yeah, absolutely.

JANE WITHERSPOON: Why is that? And in what way have you. I mean, what have you experienced firsthand?

IRIS VAN HERPEN: Well, it's still male driven, especially within the top level. And I think that's something that really needs to become more democratic. And of course, at the fore of it, it's a difference between countries. But if you look very globally, it's still a big difference. And I think we should all try to change that within our direct environment. And if we all do that, we make a big step.

JANE WITHERSPOON: When do you think that fashion becomes political? Because I know, especially in your home country, in the Netherlands, they've just introduced the ban on the burqa, and anything covering the face - they're following on from Paris which has done the same thing. What do you make of that?

IRIS VAN HERPEN: I find it so difficult. My own label is not meant to express any political messages because I feel there is too much to say and I want to. And in the end, it's all very temporary. And within my own label, I try to create things that are much more timeless. I really like looking at my work from a bird's eye perspective.

JANE WITHERSPOON: As a person though - I mean, do you do you have any views on whether someone should be dictating really whether you can or cannot wear something?

IRIS VAN HERPEN: No, no. My work is all about freedom. And I think we should all be able to express ourselves the way we feel, to be able to express our own identity and to be creative in that. I think anybody should be able to wear what they want.

JANE WITHERSPOON: What do you think about gender neutral status?

IRIS VAN HERPEN: I think it's a good thing, but I think we also want to embrace gender as I think there is a really beautiful, there is a lot of beauty in femininity and masculinity, and I think it's a great thing that there is also more options for gender neutral. But I think it's just becoming a different alternative.

JANE WITHERSPOON: If you could go back in time and give your younger self one piece of advice, what would that be?

IRIS VAN HERPEN: Ooh nice question. So many, I made so many mistakes in my life.

JANE WITHERSPOON: Welcome to the club

IRIS VAN HERPEN: Where do we start? I was quite naive when I started. I was focused purely on creative, which is a good thing. But obviously, running a label is also running a business. So I could have used more help on the business side from the beginning.

JANE WITHERSPOON: Am I right in thinking you're only one of 10 people who can legitimately say that you're haute couture?

IRIS VAN HERPEN: Yeah, yeah.

JANE WITHERSPOON: That's quite a nice little gang to be in.

IRIS VAN HERPEN: Yeah, I think I also was the youngest

JANE WITHERSPOON: I think you still are.

IRIS VAN HERPEN: I haven't checked. Maybe. Yeah.

JANE WITHERSPOON: What advice would you give to the next generation of designers coming through the ranks?

IRIS VAN HERPEN: I really want to give the advice to not forget about craftsmanship and innovation. Because that's the root of fashion. Craftsmanship has always been about innovation. But I think we at this moment very much live in a street where our focus is culture, but a lot of the knowledge within fashion making, like the pattern making example, is one of them. But also traditional craftsmanship is not being taught at schools anymore. And you're going to miss out within your career if you only have one tool.

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