‘Architectonics’, the latest couture collection from Iris Van Herpen, imagines a new world; a world where architectural advances made by humans are no longer limited to dry land but exist in harmony with marine ecosystems. Drawing on the aquatic urbanism movement, Van Herpen’s designs glow with the hope and possibility of a future where bionic architecture, buildings that are self-sufficient and responsive to changing environmental conditions, reigns supreme. The collection captures the stunning, fluid nature of the world’s oceans by creating illusions of shifting patterns of light and shadow, fractal forms, geodesic voids, and distorted perspectives using cutting-edge techniques inspired by waterborne architecture. Sound intriguing?

Lucky for us, Iris Van Herpen has collaborated with fashion director Nicola Formichetti and photographer Rob Rusling on a groundbreaking campaign for the collection using AI technology, as the trio spoke to V about how the use of technology helped bring the collection to a new dimension.

Photographed by Rob Rusling | Courtesy of Iris Van Herpen

V Magazine: When creatively brainstorming for the collection, what would you say prompted the theme of the collection?

Iris Van Herpen: Some years ago, I discovered the mindblowing aquatic architecture of Jacques Rougerie, and I have been following this innovative movement since then. Early this year, I found out about the city Oceanix which is being built in South Korea. For some people, the idea of living on water seems very far away, but through the designs of this collection, I wanted to highlight the actuality and the radicality of it.

V: With the latest collection seemingly proposing the idea of hybridization between humans and the aquatic world, how did the theme of the latest collection show through in this new campaign?

IVH: For this campaign, we worked with AI to generate the environments and the architecture, we wanted the architecture to have morphing qualities, to play with the aquatic architecture concept. Some buildings are a hybridization of deep sea creatures and cathedrals, others show the movement of a jellyfish merged with temple structures. It was us dreaming together with AI to create a future we would want to live in.

V: Was there any sort of creative guidelines or direct inspiration that you wanted to be reflected within the imagery?

Photographed by Rob Rusling | Courtesy of Iris Van Herpen

IVH: YesRob [Rusling], Nicola [Formichetti], and I spoke about creating a symbiotic landscape that reflects elements of Jacques Rougerie, Oceanix, various deep sea creatures, Bjarke Ingels, Zaha Hadid, my own designs and archive, and historic cathedrals and temples. We wanted to create aquatic temples of the future, composing places that feel holy and undiscovered, that we all want to discover.

V: Working with Rob Rusling and Nicola Formichetti on the imagery for the shoot, what excited you most about the possibilities of using AI on dreaming up visuals to support the collection?

IVH: The creative process we had together was exceptionally inspiring, we could dream up all these references, to cathedrals we love, the deep sea life we have seen, and even my archive that we trained the AI with. So by teaching the AI my design DNA and the more historic architectures references, it got better ‘dreams’. It was very inspiring to see how marvelous Rob [Rusling] and his team are with AI, it brings a whole new dimension to fashion editorial.

V: Rob and Nicola, when approached by Iris Van Herpen to collaborate on the campaign, what were some of your initial ideas when coming up with a concept for the aquatic-themed collection?

Photographed by Rob Rusling | Courtesy of Iris Van Herpen

Rob Rusling: I went to visit Iris [Van Herpen] at her Atelier in Amsterdam and we sat down to discuss her research and concept direction for the collection. She showed me these beautiful conceptual semi-aquatic cities that are the work of several architects such as Jacques Rougerie whose work we spoke about a lot. Iris’s work in general tends to show us a vision of a world that might be, one that fuses ideas of the future with the dream-like, the scientific, and the imagined. She intrigues us by showing us a vision of fashion that touches the senses emotionally in ways that are very known and human (ideas of romance, strength, energy, etc.) whilst also inviting us into a world that seems so new and so out of this world. I wanted to make images of the collection that of course were inspired by the same references as Iris’ collection and crucially I wanted to make images that hopefully come close to doing the same thing that Iris’ fashion is able to do. To show the viewer an imagined world, a world that could be a vision of the future, a world that feels somewhat dreamlike and fantastical, and yet I wanted the images to still feel poetic and emotive. 

Nicola Formichetti: I believe I played the role of a fashion ‘cupid’ in bringing Iris [Van Herpen] and Rob [Rusling] together to create these incredible visuals. When I first began working on the collection, which was all about looking into future living, and how aquatic architecture and bionic innovations were going to be the key, Rob’s photography immediately came to mind as the perfect fit to interpret Iris’ world. Rob has been doing an exceptional job of constructing his own universe, and I knew that collaborating with him would result in an extraordinary visual, and it was. The final outcome is truly next level! We managed to capture ethereal goddesses from another realm—beautiful, strong, and divine beings—surrounded by living architecture that seamlessly complements Iris’ fashion creations. This collection envisions a future where humans coexist harmoniously with both land and offshore environments, creating a balanced relationship with the oceans. These images truly reflect that vision, showcasing the enchanting harmony between human creativity and the natural world.

V: Working together on utilizing AI for the imagery, what was the overall direction that you wanted to be represented in the images when creating a seemingly underwater world for it? Did the garments themselves help drive inspiration for this project?

Photographed by Rob Rusling | Courtesy of Iris Van Herpen

RR: The garments and the ideas behind the garments are always the most important part of the narrative when making this type of imagery I think, so they were the starting point for everything from my perspective. It was about bringing Iris’ dreams to life, what does this world where this collection lives look like? We considered several approaches to the set design for this series of images, we considered and experimented with having an environment made in CGI and I considered physical sets but ultimately as we experimented in the lead-up to the shoot with these different routes, it was ultimately the AI-based scenes that made the most sense for the project. 

Rather than it being easy or a lazy option, mastering and controlling a large series of AI backgrounds that will work aesthetically with your concept, outfits, lighting, and angles is really a tall order. However, It has a very interesting aesthetic that is truly individual, and unlike 3D/CGI images or sets it doesn’t need to be ‘accurate’ from an engineering perspective. Often columns lead to nowhere, structures float as if gravity doesn’t matter, materials that you recognize but can’t quite know if they exist can be used to make enormous centerpieces, light can be so beautifully soft whilst also rendering hard reflections in glass and waterit’s very individual and its differences from more conventional CGI make it very amenable to uses, where you want to combine it with the photographs. We always spoke from the very beginning with Iris about the images for this collection being painterly and ethereal, these qualities come very naturally to AI-based imagery in a way that feels very photographic where often other techniques might feel too digital or clean. Ultimately, I am a photographer first and foremost, and I have always loved the textural qualities a photograph can have, so it’s important to me that visual language is present even if I’m using very digital techniques to make images. 

Photographed by Rob Rusling | Courtesy of Iris Van Herpen

We worked again with Nik Gundersen, a digital set designer, whose work with AI is really exceptional and who’s worked with me on several projects now, including our recent V Magazine cover with actress Halle Bailey. When making the digital sets for this campaign series, it was a case of myself, Iris, and Nicola looking at backgrounds first that Iris and I were making ourselves with Midjourney and then giving those along with other references and ideas for the angles, surroundings, lighting to Nik to have him try to make them come to life. It’s an exceptionally collaborative process and one which we need to have prior to the shoot itself happening because I need to first work with Nik not just to get the feel of the spaces themselves right but to manipulate the lighting and the types of angles that he is able to generate. I know how I want to light the collection and I need the lighting of my images to also work with the lighting of the sets (and vice versa) and so we have to be able to very tightly control the output. 

I remember on set saying to Nicola that the funny thing with AI is that its a little like photography, the negative people will say “Photography is easy, you just press a button” and in the same way now people say that “AI is easy, you just ask a computer to take a reference and make a picture”. Give either medium a go without really dedicating some time to mastering it and you’ll soon find that not to be so true.

Designer Iris van Herpen

Photography Rob Rusling

Styling Nicola Formichetti

Digital Set Design Nik Gundersen 

Production Mayor Productions, FE Creatives, Joanna van der Werf, Christian Reiche, Dominika Kasova 

Models Vika Evseeva, Dolly Baby, Jimai Hoth Gor

Casting Maxime Valentini

Press Marit de Hoog

Make-up Mathieu Grandjean for NARS

Hair Antoinette Beenders for AVEDA

Shoes in collaboration with SCRY

Headpieces Malakai & Rinaldy Yunardi 

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