Pushing the boundaries between art and fashion, the avant-garde design duo from Amsterdam Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren, have after 25 years of basically being totally rebellious and following their own path, gained critical acclaim for their extravagant, opulent cutting edge potently powerful haute couture.
Is Fashion Art? you may well ask – well we do have the answer with Viktor&Rolf.
The show provides a sensational visual metaphor for our current age of change, which has then been elevated into an aristocratic class of its own.
In many ways their fashionable, sometimes lace and crystal encrusted attire, could be likened to a type of Aristo-punk, where the past and present live together; giving life to a new fashionable mode embraced by both men and women.
NGV director Tony Ellwood said of Viktor&Rolf “Their boundary-pushing designs challenge the way fashion is developed, presented and disseminated with masterful craftsmanship, intellectual rigour and an ironic sense of humour,” he said.
Some 40 haute couture pieces are presented, showcased alongside earlier designs from their archive and international museum collections.
Picasso and the movement in art known as Cubism and in particular, his oil on canvas painted in 1937 memorializing the first saturation bombing of a civilian area – the Basque town of Guernica, has been a huge influence on their sculptural white gowns.
What a coup for the NGV, the show coming about because of the efforts of independent international curator Thierry-Maxime Loriot, whom we first met in 2014 when he curated the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition at the NGV.
As children Viktor&Rolf discovered when they finally met, they both had a fascination for fragrance, which was easier for them both to understand than fashion at that time.
It’s not surprising then that conversations about and creating projects around perfume would become integral to their life’s work.
Since they formed their partnership in 1992, Viktor&Rolf have indeed become exciting innovators not afraid to experiment with new techniques and unusual combinations to achieve a striking effect.
In 1993, when twenty-four years old, Viktor & Rolf created their first collection together for a festival founded in 1986 by Jean-Pierre Blanc.
The Salon Européan des Jeunes Stylistes (Festival International des Arts de la Mode) at Hyères in the South of France, became a launching pad as they presented a breathtaking, distorted ball gown of grey wool with torn and ripped embroidery with silver sequins.
They were unanimously awarded all three major prizes on offer and Horsting and Snoeren transformed into the company known as Viktor & Rolf. Internships offered as part of the prize did not materialize as making money became important to their survival.
It was after spending five years of experimentation that they turned their focus to haute couture, where they found their niche creatively.
As a dynamic duo they totally wowed the crowd appearing on stage with Loriot as interviewer, talking about how they met at art school and decided to form their partnership.
They admitted to the audience they always use emotion to guide their hand, head and heart as they conceptualize and produce the creations the art world at fist responded to so positively, way ahead it seems of the fashion world.
Highlighting what is involved in creating their influential sometimes-irreverent show stopping designs of what is described as wearable art for their crowd-pleasing runway shows, they revealed how from creating a concept to commercialization, getting the details right is a fine balancing act.
Their objective is very ‘Zen’ in concept, embracing the Japanese philosophical idea that profound happiness can never be surpassed by the accumulation of wealth and power.
At all times they strive to tell a story by being uncompromisingly creative, using couture as a laboratory.
The rigorous search for essentials and the self-discipline of Zen have left their stamp on every aspect of their design.
Zen philosophy also embraces the concept that it is only those who mentally complete the incomplete that discover true beauty.
Red Carpet Dressing, Atomic Bomb, Chain Saw Massacre, Blacklight, Vagabonds and Flowerbombs are just some of the diversity of themes explored. How could you not love their Van Gogh Girls, complete with Haystacks and flowers.
Viktor&Rolf don’t follow trends, they set them!
Just loved how one of their ‘framed’ dresses can come off the model and onto a wall to be admired’, an example of fashion met morphing into art actually. It was all about beauty and fun.
Fun and humour is an important aspect of the collection. ‘With exquisite craftsmanship and dreamy silhouettes, sometimes made from tinkling bells or red carpet, the Dutch fashion artists have been creating wearable art for the past twenty years in a unique, singular style,’ said Thierry-Maxime Loriot.
Feeling negative led to the collection woven around the word NO became a creative outlet where emotion became the starting point.
Renowned for their thought provoking performance art runway shows, we gained a sense of how sensational they must be when at the preview a model being dressed by them both in layers of clothing, which at the end can weigh 70 kgs.
Melbourne fashionistas are renowned for their love of black, although the black suit covered with graduated giant sized bows worn with a helmet that conceals your face may be one mile too far for some to contemplate.
They may prefer the innovative Bedtime Story, from the ready-to-wear collection of the autumn-winter season 2005, 2006 and both padded and plush, it would provide its wearer with emergency comfort as required.
Gloriously crafted dolls made in Belgium are dressed in miniature versions of the dynamic duo’s iconic looks.
Walking around them makes you realise how applying makeup and grooming to match what the model had originally worn on the catwalk, would have taken just as long as the life-size originals.
They started producing their dolls with attitude for a solo show at the Barbican in London and they have now become an important aspect of their raison d’étre.
Talking about which, an important aspect of the exhibition is a specialised fun Atelier: Viktor&Rolf for Kids, although after viewing it today I think any adult will enjoy its innovation just as much.
Its central focus is a stunning wedding dress created for the royal wedding of Princess Mabel of Orange-Nassau and Prince Friso in 2004.
Children will be invited to construct a fashion accessory using different types of paper folding and layering techniques and then to capture their fashionable moment in a portrait to be shared with friends and family.
A superb catalogue, fabulous kids colouring book and a range of interesting items in the shop will be sure to please. The truly delightful wallpaper used throughout the exhibition, which is made up of drawings by Viktor&Rolf, looks set to be printed on demand.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016
180 St Kilda Road, Melbourne
Atelier: Viktor&Rolf for Kids FREE
Uncredited photos by Carolyn McDowall