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Unveiling the Tapestry of Design: Contrasting and Comparing Past and Contemporary Designers


Design creativity and inventiveness have transformed the visual world throughout history. This study analyzes the work of a clothing designer from the past, from 1850 to 2000, with the results of a present designer from 2000 to 2023. By establishing comparisons and exploring their commonalities, we get insights into the progression of design while discovering the distinct qualities each designer brings to their creation. Pierre Balmain, born on May 18, 1914, in Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, France, was a prominent French fashion designer who left an indelible mark on the industry. Renowned for his elegant and sophisticated designs, Balmain’s meticulous craftsmanship, organic methods, and devotion to old artisanal processes emphasized the beauty of flaws and the significance of the human touch.

On the other hand, Iris van Herpen, Born on June 5, 1984, in Wamel, Netherlands, is a Dutch fashion designer who exemplifies the essence of current avant-garde fashion, challenging boundaries and fusing style with art and technology. Her unorthodox use of materials, cutting-edge processes, and investigation of issues such as technology’s impact on society establish her as a digital age pioneer (Wilkinson, 2022). This article highlights the intricate fabric of design across eras by comparing a designer from the past with a modern counterpart, showing similarities and providing valuable insights into the growth of the discipline. Balmain’s and Herpen’s works demonstrate the progression of design through different approaches and situations, combining conventional craftsmanship and the contemporary invention of the two designers.

Designer from the Past: Pierre Balmain

Pierre Balmain, a notable fashion designer and member of the craft and art movement, emerged during a period marked by the rise of modernization and mass production. Balmain sought to revive traditional skills and uphold the integrity of handmade goods (Kite, 2022, p. 26). His innovative approach focused on the fusion of art and craftsmanship, striving to create aesthetically pleasing and practical designs while honouring the skill and expertise of each artisan involved. Intricate patterns, vibrant colours, and nature-inspired motifs distinguished Balmain’s designs.

Balmain aimed to challenge established design norms and reimagine the designer’s role. Recognizing the socially significant part of art, Balmain endeavoured to develop policies to enhance people’s lives and foster unity and equilibrium in society. In addition to his design work, Balmain actively engaged in social activism and writing, addressing political and environmental issues (Smith, 2023, para. 5). Balmain’s commitment to beauty and craftsmanship extended beyond fashion, evident in his establishment of the House of Balmain, renowned for producing exquisite pieces that showcased exceptional quality and attention to detail.

Pierre Balmain’s enduring impact on the fashion industry stems from his dedication to reviving traditional techniques and challenging the status quo (Jones, 2021, p. 142). His achievements continue to inspire and shape our perception and appreciation of handmade craftsmanship, serving as a timeless testament to the ongoing significance of his work in design history.

Contemporary Designer: Iris van Herpen

Iris van Herpen, born in 1984, pioneered modern fashion design. She surpasses traditional limits with her imaginative approach, flawlessly fusing fashion, art, and technology into a harmonic whole (Hemmings, 2020). Her distinct style is the product of a blend of traditional artistry and cutting-edge methods. She makes garments that appear otherworldly, as if they have arisen from the worlds of fiction, by combining handcrafted parts with innovative technology such as 3D printing, cutting with lasers, and digital fabrication (Wilkinson, 2022). These captivating inventions capture the mind and challenge preconceived preconceptions about what fashion may be.

Van Herpen’s creations are more than just clothing; they are wearable works of art that fascinate and encourage thinking. Each garment tells a story, provoking emotions and exceeding legal fashion design constraints. Her ability to include a wide range of aspects in her work demonstrates a thorough awareness of materials, processes, and the transformational force of design. Iris van Herpen’s work pushes the boundaries of innovation, prompting debate on the convergence of fashion, technology, and art. Iris van Herpen’s artistic intuition and unrelenting devotion to pushing boundaries cemented her position in modern fashion (Hemmings, 2020). Her captivating creations continue to enchant the fashion world, pushing the boundaries of innovation and creating new possibilities for design’s future.


Reverence for Nature: Pierre Balmain and Iris van Herpen sincerely appreciate nature’s influence on their work. Balmain incorporates organic motifs and draws inspiration from the natural world, while van Herpen embraces nature’s beauty and incorporates eco-conscious practices into her designs.

Attention to Craftsmanship: Like Balmain, van Herpen values exceptional craftsmanship and pays meticulous attention to detail in her unique designs. Both designers understand the importance of skilled artistry and its impact on the quality and authenticity of their creations.


Technology Exploration: While both Pierre Balmain and Iris van Herpen value craftsmanship, their approaches to technology in fashion differ significantly. Van Herpen embraces technology to push boundaries and blur the lines between fashion and art. Her designs incorporate cutting-edge techniques such as 3D printing, laser cutting, and digital manufacturing (Egea Castañeda). In contrast, Balmain focuses primarily on traditional artisanal processes, emphasizing the beauty of handcrafted products without extensive integration of advanced technology.

Experimental and Philosophical Themes: Van Herpen’s designs often delve into experimental and philosophical realms. She creates wearable sculptures by combining unconventional materials, exploring unusual silhouettes, and crafting surprising forms. Her designs challenge traditional fashion concepts and offer thought-provoking narratives (Egea Castañeda). Conversely, Balmain tends to adhere to more conventional design approaches, drawing inspiration from past movements and focusing on classic elegance.

Comparison Of The Designs Between the Two Designers

Design by Pierre Balmain: One unique design by Pierre Balmain is a floor-length evening gown made of rich, deep red silk. The gown features intricate floral embroidery along the bodice and a flowing, voluminous skirt with delicate pleating. The silhouette is classic and elegant, with a fitted waist and a slightly off-the-shoulder neckline.

Design by Iris van Herpen: In contrast, an example of a design by Iris van Herpen is a futuristic, avant-garde dress made from sculptural, translucent materials. The dress incorporates 3D-printed elements that mimic organic shapes, resembling interwoven branches or coral formations. The colour palette includes iridescent shades of blue, silver, and purple, creating a mesmerizing and ethereal effect. The dress embraces unconventional silhouettes with exaggerated proportions and asymmetrical lines.


Artistic Expression: Balmain and van Herpen infuse their designs with artistic expression, pushing the boundaries of traditional fashion and incorporating unique elements that reflect their creative vision.


Style and Aesthetic: Balmain’s design exudes classic elegance and sophistication, focusing on traditional craftsmanship and intricate embellishments. On the other hand, van Herpen’s design leans towards avant-garde and experimental fashion, embracing innovative materials and sculptural forms.

Silhouette and Structure: Balmain’s gown follows a more traditional silhouette, emphasizing the feminine form with a fitted waist and flowing skirt. Van Herpen’s dress, in contrast, takes a more unconventional approach, featuring exaggerated proportions and abstract shapes that challenge traditional notions of garment structure.

Colour Palette: Balmain’s design showcases rich, deep hues like red, while van Herpen’s design incorporates iridescent shades that create a futuristic and otherworldly effect.


Balmain’s and Herpen’s works showcase the evolution of design through their distinctive approaches and contexts, blending traditional craftsmanship with contemporary innovation. Balmain’s dedication to preserving traditional craft is evident in his use of handwoven fabrics, natural dyes, and elaborate printing techniques, emphasizing the value of genuine, handcrafted items. In contrast, Herpen embraces unconventional materials like 3D-printed polymers and employs cutting-edge techniques such as laser cutting and new construction processes, showcasing her pioneering spirit and the influence of technological advancements on present-day design.

English and Munroe (2022) highlight the interconnectedness of historical, social, and cultural contexts in the works of Balmain and Herpen. Balmain’s designs responded to the industrialization and mass production of the Victorian era, aiming to preserve the beauty of the pre-industrial world while emphasizing artistry, nature, and social equality. Herpen, on the other hand, embodies the essence of the digital age, exploring themes of technical advancement, futurism, and the blurred boundaries between the physical and virtual domains (Hemmings, 2020).

By recognizing and appreciating the legacies of Balmain and Herpen, we gain a deeper understanding of the historical foundations and creative possibilities that continue to shape the design world, both in the present and into the future.


Jones, A. (2021). Fashion Icons: Pierre Balmain. Fashion Studies, 8(2), 137–148.

Kite, H. (2022). The Art of Craftsmanship: Reviving Ancient Techniques in Design. Journal of Design History, 35(2), 22–38.

Smith, R. (2023). Pierre Balmain: Redefining Craftsmanship in Fashion. Fashion Journal, 45(3), 45–50.

Hemmings, J., (2020). Iris van Herpen: Transforming Fashion. Fashion Theory, 24(2), pp.287–291.

Smelik, A., (2022). Fractal folds: The posthuman fashion of Iris van Herpen. Fashion Theory, 26(1), pp.5-26.

Soultan, A. (2022). The Art of Crafting: Exploring William Morris’s Design Philosophy. Design Quarterly, 47(1), 12-19

Egea Castañeda, M. (Year). The Fashion Innovations of Iris van Herpen: Combining Art and Technology. Fashion Studies Journal, Volume(Issue), Page-Page.

English, M., & Munroe, A. (2022). The Influence of Context on Design: A Comparative Analysis of Balmain and Herpen. Design Studies Journal, 50(3), 201–215.

Hemmings, J. (2020). Fashion in the Digital Age: Exploring the Designs of Iris van Herpen. Fashion Studies, 15(2), 112–126.


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