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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Viktor & Rolf Play with Dolls

Dean Mayo Davies gets an early peek...

Their fall 2008 catwalk show protested "No!" but we say “Yes!” to Viktor & Rolf. And so does London’s Barbican, where a retrospective of the Dutch duo's work opens tomorrow. The House of Viktor & Rolf—curated by Jane Alison and designed by Dutch architect and art historian Siebe Tettero, who also designed the infamous upside-down Viktor & Rolf shop in Milan—charts fifteen years of the fashion world's Gilbert & George, the first time an exhibition has been devoted to the pair in the UK.

Instead of the standard gallery show with clothes positioned vacuously on lifeless mannequins, V&R have remade everything in miniature, showcasing their greatest hits on two-foot-tall dolls—part pageant, part Bride of Chucky. Highlights include pieces from their Atomic Bomb collection (1998-1999), in all its mushroom-cloud provocation, and Russian Doll (1999–2000), in which they dressed Maggie Rizer layer by layer until she was left gasping underneath 70 kilos of couture—a work of performance art as much as it was a spectacular fashion show. Yet the holy grail for hardcore fans are pieces from 1996’s infamous Launch collection, as well as the notorious fake perfume and a mock ad campaign.

Having worked together since their graduation from Arnhem Academy in 1992, Viktor & Rolf's journey has been a beguiling, bewitching one. Their haute couture collection in January 1998, when they hijacked the Paris fashion calendar, evolved over the next four seasons into a ready-to-wear collection based entirely on cornea-popping cut-ups of the American flag. For those who feared production would strip away their sheen, the answer was immediate: success need not mean selling out.

With the benefit of hindsight, their oblique yet charming concepts seem to come naturally to them, even in recent shows, most notably fall 2007, in which each model wore her own personal lighting rig with speakers. This is how Viktor & Rolf roll. Their idiosyncratic vision goes a long way in explaining an H&M collection, two fragrances and that upside-down boutique in Milan’s golden quadrangle. No ticking of boxes here. Now, Horsting (Viktor) and Snoeren (Rolf) have warped the exhibition template.

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