Amsterdam fashion designer Iris Van Herpen collaborated with architect and UCLA lecturer Julia Koerner on the making of this dress using 3-D printing. It debuted in the haute couture show in Paris in January. A video at the end of this story shows how this dress was made. Photos by Michel Zoeter.
This is the latest installment of “After Hours” — a series about faculty and staff who balance their work lives with side projects or fascinating hobbies.

Day job: Architect and lecturer in Greg Lynn’s SUPRASTUDIO in the Department of Architecture and Urban Design. Currently, she teaches graduate students how to use the latest software tools to create and design adaptive surfaces that change in size and dimension based on environmental influences, such as the temperature or sunlight.

But after hours: She collaborates with 29-year-old fashion phenom Iris Van Herpen of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, whose futuristic, edgy designs in women’s wear reveal a fascination with experimental technologies, materials and techniques and a curious blend of science and fantasy. Van Herpen is the youngest guest member of the prestigious Parisian Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. Her other-worldly creations have been worn by Bjork and Lady Gaga, and her collections appear on runways in Paris at the fall and summer haute couture shows. Koerner has completed two dresses with Van Herpen.
UCLA lecturer Julia Koerner and a copy of the latest L'Officiel 1000 Modeles Haute Couture Paris, which features all the fashions shown at the January show.
Background: Koerner has a master’s degree in architecture with distinction  from the University of Applied Arts in Vienna and another in emergent technologies and design from the Architectural Association in London. She has worked for architects in New York and Austria and taught in Vienna, Paris and Sweden before coming to UCLA last fall. She has won several prizes, including the TISCHE-Scholarship, MAK Schindler Scholarship Architects in residency program for an independent research project in Los Angeles and the Architektur-Preis Land-Salzburg scholarship, a one-year grant for her research project, Tangible Data.

How it all started: After graduating from the University of Applied Arts, Koerner left Vienna for London where she worked with renowned product designer Ross Lovegrove creating concepts for Italian lighting manufacturer Artemide; perfume bottles for Kenzo and Narciso Rodriguez; and limited-edition furniture using cutting-edge emergent technologies, like 3-D printing.
What’s 3-D printing?: Also called additive manufacturing, it’s a new technology that’s gaining in popularity because it allows you to produce a three-dimensional solid object of virtually any shape from a digital model created on the computer. Koerner explained: “If you can imagine a coffee cup that’s sliced into one-millimeter sections, a 3-D printer, using a laser to heat resin, can ‘print’ each of those sections in 3-D. And they would come out layer by layer, building out that shape. You can even 3-D-print two rings that are interlocking.” The technology, which also enables the creation of material that can be hard and rigid or soft and pliable, is currently being used in architecture, engineering, aerospace, industrial design, and jewelry and footwear manufacturing.

The leaf at the center of this illustration by 19th-century biologist Ernst Haeckel became the inspiration for a 3-D printed dress (below) by Van Herpen. Photo by Sophie van der Perre.
holographic.dressThe connection: Iris Van Herpen is the first fashion designer to use 3-D printing to “build” the complex shapes, delicate patterns and intricate structure of her pieces. She found Koerner through the Belgium-based 3-D printing company, Materialise, which provides the technology and develops the materials for the dresses. Because Van Herpen works mainly in two dimensions — she draws and uses Photoshop — she needed someone to three-dimensionally realize her ideas. That’s when she started collaborating with 3-D designer Koerner.

The creative process: Koerner’s first dress designed by Van Herpen — a dress seemingly created “of liquid honey,” one critic observed — was inspired by an exquisitely drawn illustration by the 19th-century German biologist/physician Ernst Haeckel. Van Herpen’s inspirations can come from anything – a flower, an insect. “Haeckel’s leaf was the inspiration for this dress,” Koerner said. “My job was to go into the computer and model in three dimensions what she sees as a visual effect for her dress.” Using Van Herpen’s sketch of the dress and Haeckel’s illustration, Koerner captured digitally the organic forms in Haeckel’s work. “There was also an understructure to the dress, which was almost architectural and autographic. There was this stark contrast between these very straight lines and very organic, fluid curves.”

Haute couture on the computer: Using 3-D printing software, Koerner writes a computer script that will instruct the 3-D printer to create parts of the dress to exactly fit a 3-D virtual mannequin that exists in reality in Van Herpen’s studio. Once the 1-gigabyte computer file is ready, Koerner and the technicians at Materialise discuss what changes need to be made in order for the file to print correctly. “It takes about a month and a half to produce the dress design in 3-D and another month for production. The level of detail is very exacting.” The second dress that Koerner worked on required that a kind of netting with openings of different sizes be created; her computer script had to account for the thickness of each strand, down to one millimeter. “The dress is basically defined by the amount of memory the computer has,” she said, laughing.

Price tag: Both one-of-a-kind creations, the two dresses Koerner worked on are not for sale. “There are none on the retail market that you can buy yet. The high manufacturing cost alone would make the dresses prohibitively expensive.” But these signature dresses, considered works of art by many, help solidify the designer’s reputation for mind-bending experimentation. “Iris Van Herpen’s work is captivating, somewhere between dream and science, combining electrical phenomena and chemical experimentation, elaborated with the help of innovative technologies. Her creations are sculptures,” according to the fall-winter 2013 edition of “Lofficiel 1000 Modeles Haute Couture Paris.”

The future of fashion: As the 3-D printing technology continues to evolve, Koerner believes consumers will see it play a larger and larger role in fashion and other retail products.
A video shows how the dress shown at the top of this story was made: