After the pandemic hit and digital fashion weeks announced that the show would go on-albeit in alternate digital formats- Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoere weren't sure whether they would show anything at all. They decided that the only way forward was to design in direct response to the current climate. Their A/W 20 haute couture collection Change offers three 'mini-wardrobes', each representing a different state of mind. Each mood consists of a nightgown, a dressing gown and a coat, and are anything but the ordinary connotations these stay at home garments might first conjure. Silk and cotton quilted fabrics are particularly successful in applying a couture sensibility to the humble dressing gown, six foot wide social distancing coats are complete with maximalist, 3-D shapes, whilst nightgowns offer a more literal commentary on the designers' emotions via motifs. Here is the wearable art Viktor&Rolf do best, aestheticism offering meaningful commentary on how the world is feeling. It is the fantasy and escapism we all crave, but is by no means naive.
Since founding their label in 1993, designers Horsting and Snoeren have always taken a subversive and provocative approach to couture and the traditional fashion show format. In 1996, after both graduating from the fashion department of the Academy of the Arts, Arhem, they flyposted the streets in Paris, announcing a strike against the pressures of the fashion calendar, which was followed by their A/W 96 NO collection. They continue to be well versed in the expressive power of clothing- see the meme worthy S/S 19 Fashion Statements collection- and their A/W 20 offering is altogether conceptual, sculptural and somewhat surreal.
A short film directed by Marijke Aerden presents the collection in an intimate salon-style setting. The special presentation recalls 1950s voiceovers, here narrated by French-Lebanese singer MIKA who takes on a posh, post-war British accent. Bringing old school charm to the first fully digital haute couture season, the film takes couture back to its routes whilst also finding new modes for modern showmanship, and it will certainly translate well for the growing Gen-Z couture customer.
Hetty Mahlich spoke with the designers about the new collection, being creative in a pandemic and taking couture digital.
Hetty Mahlich: Tell me about the design process for this collection.
Rolf Snoere: What happened is that the design process started with us being completely paralysed by the whole current situation, it was just such a shock. For a while, we were wondering whether we should be doing something at all, is this the time for fashion? So it was really paralysing. Then we decided that we wanted to continue to work, we were never going to do nothing. But it took a while to gather our thoughts to come up with something that we thought was worthwhile and meaningful in this weird time.
Viktor Horsting: We felt that this collection had to deal with the emotional rollercoaster that we and everybody around us is experiencing.
HM: How have you found the process of working in lockdown?
RS: Well it did pose some very practical challenges, but fortunately here in the Netherlands there was never a full lockdown so we were able to go outside, we were able to go to the office and our team continued to work. We have a fairly big space so we can keep a safe distance, but there were less hands. Usually we have a big team of interns from all over the world who come to help us for six months, but they all had to leave and go home. It also took time to allow ourselves to go into that creative space, that creative mindset, with all this stuff going on.
VH: I wouldn't describe the process as enjoyable, it was really was a challenge. For us it was just important to bring something positive to the world, but it was extremely difficult to be creative- I think that was the biggest struggle, to have creative thoughts. It took a long time for us to reach that point.
HM: What's the premise behind the film?
VH: I think for years now we've been thinking about the identity crisis of the fashion show, and how for us the fashion show has lost its meaning and its lustre. So we're trying to see what we can do to make it meaningful again. Somehow with all the fashion weeks going digital, and us having tried so many different ways of expressing ourselves, we felt the need to go back to this fifties salon show where it was really about intimacy, the showing of the clothes.
RS: Back to the archetype of what the fashion show is, to where the fashion show comes from. We feel that there needs to be more of a focus, both for ourselves and with fashion in general. There's just too much.
VH: Everything is wrong, it's bad for the environment, clothes are shown in the wrong season, but we all just continue as if it's working.
RS: It's also over stretching the environment and the people who work in fashion, from designers to writers. There's constantly this treadmill of more, more, more. It doesn't feel healthy.
HM: How did working with MIKA come about?
VH: We were watching these fifties news items with voiceovers, commenting on the fashion from Paris, with this very posh, old-fashioned voice. We know MIKA and he has this unidentifiable accent, because he speaks seven different languages. We just felt he had the perfect voice for this.
HM: You've both always made a statement against the traditional fashion show format, your work functions more as an art form. Who is the couture customer now, and is the show format still relevant for them?
VH & RS: For us couture has always been an artistic experimentation, a lot of our designs are bought by museums, often not in the season. Museums will contact us for a design we did 15 years ago for instance. For us it's an artistic thing, our clients are collectors and our shows reflect that.