Iris van Herpen, Sensory Seas, 2019

What Iris van Herpen saw in the Ocean

Our new book Ocean looks at how this Dutch fashion designer captured a mystery element of the seas

Ocean contains teeming multitudes. Subtitled Exploring the Marine World, our new book reproduces more than 300 incredible sea images.

A large number of these are by familiar artists. This new book has works by David Hockney, Damien Hirst, Claude Monet, Dana Schutz, Hokusai, JMW Turner, Sebastião Salgado and Vincent van Gogh Yet there’s plenty more to the book besides these big names.

There are scientific images; newspaper illustrations; vernacular, folk creations by a huge variety of people from across the globe, as well as a number of inclusions that aren’t easy to categorise.

Splash about in this book and you may come across a sea urchin vase by the acclaimed French artisan, René Jules Lalique; a textile print created by one of the Kuna people, of the San Blas Islands of Panama in the Caribbean Sea; an ancient votive plaque depicting a Roman sea monster; a frame from the 1956 Jacques Cousteau film, Le monde du silence; and a still from the 1992 Sega video game, Ecco the Dolphin.

At first glance, you might conclude that this picture (above) is one of Ocean’s botanical photographs; however, on closer inspection, it is, in fact, more likely to be seen on the catwalk than beside a catfish.

Entitled Sensory Seas, it is the creation of Dutch fashion designer Iris van Herpen, and forms part of her Spring/Summer 2020 collection, which was inspired by marine ecology. Perhaps ‘inspired’ is the wrong word here, though, since this garment isn’t solely Van Herpen’s work; some of its eventual form was left to chance.

“Van Herpen is known for pushing the boundaries in her work, using fabrics and techniques not normally associated with the fashion world,” the text in Ocean explains. “For this collection, she constructed shell-like dresses using lasers to cut pearlescent exoskeletons inspired by the ‘butterfly’ effect: the idea that a small change, such as swapping scissors for lasers, will have multiple and unpredictable outcomes.

“The result is a delicate, fluttering dress in shades of aquamarine and turquoise that resembles the sea creatures that undulate in the depths of the ocean. The originality and unpredictability of her vision were beautifully captured in the twenty-one dresses that made up ‘Sensory Seas’, which she intended to celebrate the mysterious quality of the deep ocean – of which, she points out, only 5 per cent has been explored.”

And the ocean’s mysteries aren’t Van Herpen’s only source of marine motivation; her garments have also helped to clean the seas. “Pushing her work even further, in her Autumn/Winter 2021 collection ‘Earthrise’, Van Herpen partnered with nonprofit environmental organisation Parley for the Oceans to create a look with upcycled fabric made from marine debris,” explains our new book.


For more on this image, and to see many others a little like it, order a copy of Ocean here.