Unless you are into high end couture fashion, the names Viktor & Rolf may not be familiar to you. All I knew about these designers before I had the pleasure of getting a sneak peek at the media preview of the new NGV exhibition was that this design pair was Dutch, and their fashion, avant-garde.
So much of this exhibition resonated deeply with me. I never thought my mind would be blown away by a room full of dresses, but Viktor & Rolf make more than just clothing, their creations are wearable art.
It was such a treat to listen to the designers chat with exhibition curator, Thierry-Maxime Loriot, about their career, inspirations and thoughts on art and fashion. Much of what they said resonated with me – I’ve written some thoughts about it here.
They spoke about how they were outsiders of the fashion world for a long time which freed them up to walk their own path, not be dictated by trends in the industry and per-conceptions of what fashion should be.
Their designs are conceived as performance pieces with the concept of the show coming first and then the garments. Haute couture is what they do, one-of-a-kind handcrafted pieces that are unique works of art. Each collection tells a story.
Considered one of the most irreverent and original haute couture shows ever presented in Paris, Russian Doll brought Viktor & Rolf international recognition. In the runway show, American model Maggie Rizer stepped onto a revolving platform like a ballerina in a music box. She was then joined onstage by the two designers, who proceeded to dress her in the eight successive ‘preparations’ that made up the collection. By the end of the performance, Rizer was enveloped in more than seventy kilograms of couture.
I was mesmerised by this collection – Russian Doll. Every garment layer had delicate beading, hand stitching, hand painted lace designs and delicate construction which contrasted with some of the fabric used including rough hessian. Not only are the designs amazing, but the workmanship and garment construction incredible.
Not only does the exhibition include over 40 haute couture pieces, also on display throughout two fashion galleries are 21 exquisite dolls. Traditionally handmade by the Viktor & Rolf atelier using porcelain, papier-mâché and human hair, each doll wears an intricately crafted miniaturised version of a key collection work. First created for The House of Viktor & Rolf (2008, Barbican Art Gallery, London), the designers have celebrated each major collection since with a new doll dressed in an emblematic design.
Of course there was no touching, but I loved getting in close to see the stitching and lining. The ateliers are incredibly talented, translating a two dimensional sketch into a three dimensional wearable fully lined, garment is no easy feat. Some of the dressed took over 300 hours to create.
This exhibition is nothing less than stunning. The details are exquisite, photos just don’t do it justice. If you get a chance please go and see it. I’ll certainly be returning for a second visit as the works were so visually overwhelming that I just couldn’t take it all in.