The big story at Viktor & Rolf was, well, small. Make that doll-scale, in fact. The Dutch duo have often looked to the pint-sized as sources of inspiration: one of their first haute couture collections was presented in miniature, while their retrospective exhibition 'The House Of Viktor & Rolf' blew china dolls to life-size to model their greatest hits. The doll is something of a Viktor & Rolf house motif. It also chimes with Spring/Summer 2012's obsession with the abstract, ephemeral idea of femininity and its representation in the modern world. There's an idea fashion's favourite Freudian slips could really get under the skin of.
So, considering Horsting and Snoeren were working entirely within the spirit of both their label and the time, why then did this show jar quite so much? Because, despite the dolly-mixture styling, powder-puff colours and spectacular staging, there was absolutely nothing below the surface. Kudos to Horsting and Snoeren, they managed to distract a thousand guests from the broiling Tuilerie temperatures and cascading waterfalls of sweat by plonking a couple of French chanteuses in forty-foot high ballgowns at the head of their catwalk. They started singing, their skirts parted like Moses' red sea, and entrez les femmes to a round of applause.
Inventive? Yes. Alas the innovation ended as the clothes began to exit. The conceit was to blow-up doll-details to human-size. Margiela has done it before, and we've all seen a giant comedy button closing a jacket. Viktor & Rolf seem to get obsessed with one dolly feature: running giant slip-stitches across every surface. Obsessed is the wrong word: they got stuck on it, like a broken record. And, like a broken record, the first time it jumps it's funny. The tenth is irritating. By the thirtieth (if your player hasn't completely broken-down by then) you've blocked it out as white noise. There was some toying with oversized lace detailing, Polly Pocket pastel shades, and some giant ruffled dresses at the end that made the models look as if they should have been concealing toilet tissue atop terribly suburban cisterns. But the vast majority of this collection minced past without the audience batting an eyelid. In hindsight, maybe that's a good thing.
That's somewhat empty (albeit accurate) criticism of Horsting and Snoeren's work. So, here's the point they should take away: I didn't see the design here. I didn't see anything fresh or exciting. I didn't see any ideas. I didn't, in short, see anything that would connect this collection of clothing to either the stated theme, or the Viktor & Rolf name. Horsting and Snoeren made that name and their reputation by offering an antidote (not the cologne) - an antidote to anodyne fashion, a touch of wry humour, a bit of intelligence. Losing that means they're losing the identity of themselves as designers. And that should be remedied, before they lose their customers too.