Marina Abramović on working with Iris van Herpen — and possibly Riccardo Tisci


With movement central to her work, experimental Dutch fashion designer Iris van Herpen has created 20 costumes for an opera dance production of Claude Debussy’s only completed opera, “Pelléas et Mélisande.” Choreographers Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Damien Jalet collaborated with performance artist Marina Abramović on the scenography of the show, which opens tonight at the Opera Antwerpen in Antwerp, Belgium.

Abramović, who attended the designer’s couture show in January, told WWD the set is “mostly black and skin color, along with this incredible metallic material that’s like quicksilver.”

“It gives these reflections like water with the light, so you really don’t know what the material is made of, which is so great in the opera setting,” said the artist, adding of van Herpen’s work: “Her creations are more like sculptures than fashion, and she has this way of taking one idea and stretching it to the maximum. She is dedicated, she has this burning inspiration and is so inventive.”


Also at the show, Jalet spoke about the “intuitive” creative flow between the artists who worked on the project, saying: “There was a real sense of sharing. There’s been very little ego, actually, everybody has worked really hard on giving a lot of space to each other.”

For the costumes, which combine traditional materials like silk, wool and leather with special ones developed in the designer’s studio, van Herpen, who herself trained in classical ballet, explored “the science and theory of parallel universes, the subjectivity of time and how emotions can travel universally through the ages.” Fabric treatments include a striped material that is laser cut and attached to invisible tulle via heat treatment, to evoke a sketch on the body. The dancers’ silver web suits are made of a thin rubber and a changeable fabric that is laser cut to create an armor effect.

The designer also has accessories and cosmetics collaborations due out later this year.

“Iris understands so much about the body, and organic [forms], and also having very complex ideas in order to achieve that. The opera is very much about light and darkness and the opposition between the two, and I think she really got that in her work,” Jalet said.

“This is a very old classic opera, mostly it’s done in dark castles, but with the set, we’ve gone more science fiction [in mood], with these huge crystals,” added Abramović who revealed she is preparing to direct an opera herself, called “Seven Deaths” — “because in every opera, there’s always a woman who dies for love, or a broken heart, or a country, or whatever. I’m only going to show deaths, one after another; it’s going to be pretty conceptual.” The opera will open in Munich, with the date to be confirmed, before touring and wrapping at Covent Garden in London, she said.

Asked who will do the costumes, she replied: “I mostly work with Riccardo Tisci. Where he’s next headed, we don’t know yet, but he’ll definitely do the costumes for ‘Seven Deaths.’”