Sixty-four years, minus three months.
It took the acclaimed kinetic sculptor and sexagenarian Anthony Howe his whole life to create his most recent large-scale spherical sculpture “Omniverse” – an interactive centerpiece and portal into Dutch fashion designer Iris van Herpen’s July 2019 Haute Couture Paris Fashion Week collection aptly titled “Hypnosis.”
“Anything anyone makes with their hands and their mind is a culmination of their entire existence, not a week or a month. Just like anything you write,” Howe expressed.
Howe is a kinetic sculptor who resides on Orcas Island. After working as a painter in New Hampshire, Howe moved to Manhattan where his new, part-time occupation of erecting steel shelving for the storage of office records resulted in the discovery of a new medium, metal. Further exploration combined with previous interests in wind and movement led to the making of kinetic wind sculptures. He then strung discarded elevator cables across local rooftops onto which he hung his first series of wind-powered sculptures.
According to the Law of Attraction, no accident is accidental.
Both known for their innovative designs that combine fastidious craftsmanship and cutting edge technology as well as their connectedness to water and its physicality, van Herpen reached out to Howe in early February to see if he would be willing to collaborate on her upcoming fashion line at the Elysee Montmartre in Paris, where van Herpen has become a fixture on the haute couture calendar. For Howe, his response was a no-brainer.
“Iris had been aware of my work for a number of years before she sent me an email asking if I would like to collaborate on a dress design. I had also been aware of her work, and seeing it again made the decision easy. When we then Skyped, I knew immediately I wanted to do something with her without regard to money or anything else. And that I trusted her completely. We had an instant connection is I guess what you would say,” Howe said.
The resulting collection — a meditation on “nature’s tapestry, interweaving air, land and oceans” — was centered around Howe’s “Omniverse” sculpture, which van Herpen selected from a mix of animated renderings Howe provided her early on. Van Herpen said she was compelled by the way its arching vertebrae, spinning on a curving axis, simultaneously expand and contract. With rotating circles of varying sizes spiraling out from a central arc, “Omniverse” “explores our relationship with nature, expressing a universal life cycle,” according to a statement on van Herpen’s website.
The meditative and hypnotic state of “Omniverse” inspired van Herpen’s line, reaching an apogee via a mechanized finale dress called “Infinity,” on which she and Howe directly collaborated.
“We are deeply thankful to have collaborated with Anthony Howe for the past five months on both the ‘Omniverse’’ sculpture and the ‘Infinity’ finale dress. The dress comes alive on the breath of a finely balanced mechanism,” van Herpen wrote on her Instagram.
With rotating wings constructed of aluminum, stainless steel and feathers that fly cyclical around their own center infinitely, Howe was able to fabricate hallucinatory motion, revealing multiple perspectives of a single dress. Over 200 fine gears were attached to synchronize their rotation. When van Herpen provided him with the mannequin, it was Howe’s first time designing on the female form. For the show the spinning was mechanized, but outside in the wind the wings would twist just like Howe’s kinetic sculptures.
Howe recalls his stress level rising upon discovering one of the strings of rotating wings on the “Infinity” dress was not rotating in a smooth motion one day prior to the show.
“Working in a room next to the Musee D’Orsay filled with models and various sewing assistants working on last minute details of the nineteen dresses, I began to slowly analyze each and every mechanical connection for inconsistencies. I detected an imbalance not unlike a teeter totter that is heavier on one side than the other so we very carefully adjusted the balance to be more precise by removing some of the metal on one side of the wings,” Howe said. “Then I applied a tiny amount of silicone grease to all of the 200 or so links. At one point the producer came into the room and said ‘a tall thin woman will be entering the room and you are to stop what you are doing and put away your phones and let her examine the dresses.’ It was none other than Celine Dion.”
Dion, who walked in the show, said of the collaboration in a story on the fashion website WWD, “You’ve created something that’s alive.”
From Paris, Howe’s “Omniverse” will be traveling to Italy for the Florence Biennale in late October.
Some of van Herpen’s designs can be seen at a current exhibition titled “A Queen Within: Adorned Archetypes” at Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture.