viktor&rolf discuss their fashion universe ahead of their first major australian exhibition

'Viktor&Rolf: Fashion Artists' at the NGV will showcase haute couture from the designers who continue to push fashion into new territory.

by Briony Wright
20 October 2016, 1:05pm

Rolf Snoeren and Viktor Horsting, Viktor&Rolf, at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Photography Wayne Taylor

Viktor&Rolf are designers who render the argument about whether fashion is art obsolete. Since they met at fashion school in 1993 the pair have continued to make clothes that intentionally and self-reflexively blur the lines between fashion and art, garment and sculpture. While most of their collections evolve from singular ideas which manifest on the runway in spectacles of design prowess, their autumn/winter 2015 show literally showcased a 'wearable art' collection. The designers took to the runway to remove paintings from the walls, which were reshaped on the spot and transformed into dresses worn by the models. It was a very literal demonstration that fashion is definitely art in the hands of these craftsmen.

Photography Alessandro Garofalo. Viktor&Rolf, 'Wearable Art' haute couture collection, autumn/winter 2015 

It was 2000 when Viktor&Rolf began producing ready to wear collections alongside their regular haute couture seasons and a few years later that they designed a collection for H&M and released their Flowerbomb fragrance. While the ready to wear showcased V&R's skill and hinted at the drama of their ideas, it was via their haute couture works that the designers were truly able to experiment with their perfectly exaggerated concepts. There was the Russian Doll show where actress Maggie Rizer was slowly dressed by the designers in front of the audience, in ten dresses, one on top of the other. Also the 2014 Red Carpet Dressing collection where they literally created dresses out of thick, red carpet. And earlier this year for spring 2016 when they brought cubist art to life in all-white pieces that seamlessly integrated hallmarks of the genre. In order to focus on this side of the business, last year Viktor&Rolf made the decision to focus their energy on their couture collections, halting ready to wear for good.

Photography Philip Riches. Viktor&Rolf, 'Performance of Sculptures' haute couture collection, spring/summer 2016 © Philip Riches 

This October, Viktor&Rolf's contribution to luxury fashion will be celebrated in an exhibition at the NGV called Viktor&Rolf: Fashion Artists, where their experimental approach to design will be highlighted in a curated selection of new and archival creations. Developed in collaboration with curator Thierry-Maxime Loriot, who also worked on the Jean Paul Gaultier show, the exhibition will include over 35 haute couture pieces from the designers' collections as well as a selection of small antique 'Dolls' dressed in the designers' most iconic looks. 

We are so excited about your Australian exhibition. What are you most looking forward to displaying in this show?
We are looking forward to seeing the overview in the biggest space of the exhibition. The pieces which will be on display were carefully selected by ourselves and the exhibition's curator. We wanted to showcase a special selection of our work as fashion artists: 'iconic', 'sculptural' and 'wearable art' were key words.

From your perspective, what is at the heart of the story you'll be telling?
The exhibition will be exploring our notion of wearable art. We want to see the clothes more as sculptures — in a museum this is sometimes easier than in a catwalk show. We are also making new work especially for the exhibition. We like the notion of time, and what time means in fashion.

A gallery is such a perfect context for your work. 
When doing a museum show there is a level of control that we find particularly attractive. A museum show provides the opposite experience to the sensation of the catwalk: where one is fast, mobile, temporary and exclusive, the other is still, democratic and accessible throughout a prolonged period of time. Both have their merits and their charm, but next to the thrill of the catwalk, we have always felt strongly about being able to showcase our work to a larger audience. And to show them without movement, as still objects. To emphasise the craftsmanship and encourage a more profound engagement.

Photography Anuschka Blommers and Niels Schumm. Rolf Snoeren and Viktor Horsting, Viktor&Rolf, Amsterdam 2008. © Anuschka Blommers and Niels Schumm 

The 'Dolls' are a novel way to show some of your key pieces. Can you tell us about them?
By recreating our contemporary fashion outfits on antique Victorian dolls, we play with the idea of time. It is like taking the temporal aspect away from the fashion outfits and making them sort of timeless. Contemporary fashion on Victorian dolls is like making history of your own work. We are also making new work for the exhibition that deals with time, trying to catch the intangible.

Time is such a relevant idea to explore in your work. In a world where fashion is moving increasingly faster and copying is commonplace, your respect for fashion is refreshing. Where do you see the fashion industry heading and what will your role be in this?
We see ourselves as fashion artists who look for the boundaries of fashion. And we make clothes as autonomous pieces, using fashion as a means of expression. We do think originality is a motor of fashion. We like to question things, the fashion system, ourselves, everything. We are very analytical and this is not always easy for us but it is often how the ideas are born. In today's fast changing, ultra fast fashion system we believe in authenticity and quality.

Photography Philip Riches. Viktor&Rolf, 'Van Gogh Girls' haute couture collection, spring/summer 2015 © Philip Riches 

Your Haute Couture autumn/winter 2016 collection, Vagabond, was so incredible and involved elements of recycling and a focus on conscious design. Do you feel a responsibility in regards to the message your collections communicate?
More than ever, we wanted to propagate "conscious designing": trying to create with a meaning. This has always been our motto, but with this collection it became part of the subject matter.

We are very introverted people and really communicate through our work. The work is often autobiographical, not just the seasonal clothes. We like to communicate a certain complexity. Like all human beings, there are many layers in emotions and thoughts. Fashion can be very one dimensional, which makes it very powerful but somehow we refuse to do just one thing, we like to confuse and to question.

Photography Peter Stigter. Viktor&Rolf, 'Vagabonds' autumn/winter 2016. Via viktor_and_rolf Instagram

Being known as designers who blur the lines between fashion and art, how do you incorporate this into the way you dress? And how do you see it having a place in everyday fashion? 
It's a good question. To answer it bluntly: we don't incorporate it into our own way of dress and we don't know how it could work in a "practical" sense.

Our shows and collections play with ideas about fashion that can be quite abstract. In that sense they address fashion in a different way and on a different level than perhaps a ready to wear collection, which has wearability as its main purpose. So in a way, we approach our work like art. Often its functionality is a mystery to us as well.

From Tilda Swinton to Róisín Murphy you've worked with so many incredible performers and models, all selected for their compelling character. Is there anyone you'd love to work with in the future?
We'd love to work with an amazing singer or band, to create a big, multimedia, immersive theatrical concert experience.

Photography Gregory Derkenne. Viktor&Rolf, 'Cutting Edge Couture' ready-to-wear collection, spring/summer 2010. Published in Citizen K Magazine, December 2009 © Gregory Derkenne 

Just a simple ambition then! Lastly, can you tell us what's inspiring you at the moment? What you're listening to or reading perhaps? 
Right now we're listening to: Recomposed by Max Richter, a contemporary rewrite of Vivaldi's 4 Seasons. We like the idea of using existing elements to create something new and unexpected. And reading: Stefan Zweig's autobiography The World of Yesterday. More than ever it's a relevant book on Europe, globalism versus nationalism, culture and ignorance.

'Viktor&Rolf: Fashion Artists' runs from 21 Oct 16 - 26 Feb 17 at the NGV. 


Text Briony Wright
Photography courtesy NGV

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