No one does theatrical quite like the design duo Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren. Rather than embracing a subtle design approach and minimalist aesthetic that many couture houses adopt for their clientele (think Alexis Mabille's understated elegance or Alber Elbaz's AZ Factory's monochrome colour palette and feminine silhouettes), the duo much prefer to revel in maximalism.
Whether it be through their use of emoticon motifs, the larger than life fashion spectacles which have come to define their anticipated slot on the schedule, or simply the scale of the designs themselves (for the pair’s S/S 19 collection it’s said they used an estimate of six kilometres of tulle alone.) When you've seen a Viktor&Rolf couture show, you certainly know about it. There's no room left for second guessing with their elaborate and highly considered concepts; the duo often make literal interpretations of their seasonal inspirations, delighting their devoted clientele. Last season for their A/W 20 haute couture collection, the pair, like every other fashion designer, were thrown into a situation where they had no idea how to translate their thoughts over the pandemic into a collection, yet they did, and they did it pretty damn well - offering three 'mini-wardrobes' with each representing a different state of mind, presented in an old salon show video format. This season, their sentimental approach to design took a different turn altogether. After they let out their thoughts and feelings over COVID-19 with their A/W 20 couture collection which addressed the pandemic directly, they decided that they were bored of sitting inside every evening, in fact, they instead wanted to go out and dance; enter the Viktor & Rolf S/S 21 haute couture show, Couture Rave.
Throughout their time as designers, Viktor&Rolf have always treated the catwalk as a stage for their performance art, bringing fantasy, beauty, and magic back to fashion as they forge a path for the viewer to enter their dream. The couture duo (who are frequently referred to as 'the Gilbert & George of fashion') founded their label in 1993, after graduating from ArtEZ Institute of the Arts in the Netherlands the previous year. Since then, the pair have always rebelled against the more traditionalist ideals of couture (and this collection of fantastical juxtapositions and wonderful contradictions is no exception.) Whether it be through staging huge theatrical spectacles or not showing anything at all. After graduating, long before designers and fashion houses commented on the increasing pressure to design (up to 6 collections a year), Viktor&Rolf took to the streets of Paris, announcing a strike in the name of the constraints being faced by the fashion calendar. The strike was followed by their A/W 96 NO collection, where the pair commented 'We love fashion, but it’s going so fast. We wanted to say “No” this season.'
The collection video for Couture Rave is filmed in an old munitions factory and features the models walking to a beat that is synonymous with that of rave music. The aesthetic of an abandoned factory sets the scene with four gigantic, slowly moving heavy brass plates, crafted from the leftover source material for bullet production. The fairytale-esque couture creations waltz down the centre of the factory, presenting a clever juxtaposition in the name of fashion, while the historical (and derelict) building creates a link between the past, present and future.
In keeping with their commitment to using upcycling fabrics in their couture collections, this season the pair have reinterpreted various archival materials ranging from patches of vintage laces and jacquards to using offcuts of some of their own vintage dresses from previous seasons. For gathering material for the collection, in true Viktor&Rolf style, the pair once again melded high and low culture by taking to junkyards to look for scrap materials, later mixing them with traditionalist couture fabrics. The outfits themselves are somewhat dissonant and at times, inharmonious in their nature, but this is by no means an accident. The reason being? Viktor&Rolf wanted to convey an impatient group of ravers, hastily picking up clothes from haphazard piles with one mission and one mission only; a fervent passion to go clubbing, knowing quite well they cannot just yet. There are voluminous skirts, some multi-layered, some not, with body conscious tops and hanging tied bow straps. The couture evening skirts, sporting dégradé ruffles and voluminous tulle, accentuate the waist by drawing attention to the body-hugging, uncovered couture 'bra' tops, all heavily embroidered in metal, lace, crystals and pieces of jewellery. For this collection, anything goes. Vibrant colours? Tick. Elegance and extravagance? Tick. A fervent passion for going out dancing and wanting to lose yourself in the moment? Tick.
Christina Donoghue sat down with the duo virtually to speak to them about the importance of celebration and the ever-so pertinent theme of merging low and high culture in their work.
Christina Donoghue: Tell me a bit about the process behind your S/S 21 collection. This is also your second collection made during the pandemic, did the design process differ from your A/W 20 collection at all?
Viktor Horsting: Well, I think last season, we had a very strong reaction to the situation that we found ourselves in because it was all new to us. We translated our emotions and how we felt quite literally into that collection and did the video with the voice over and overall, that really took a lot of energy on our part and admittedly we found the whole process the first time round quite a struggle. Once we had finished and launched the collection, we felt like we’d dealt with the situation and our subsequent emotions surrounding it in a way that we found necessary. Bearing that in mind, this season didn't feel as much of a burden to compare the two. For A/W 20 we questioned whether we should’ve even produced anything at all because the situation was so terrible and so difficult, we kept asking ourselves ‘where does this (the pandemic) fit into fashion?’ So once we got those thoughts and feelings out of our system we felt much more light-hearted and that’s what we wanted to portray for S/S 21, the sense of feeling light-hearted.
Rolf Snoeren: There’s so much doom scrolling at the moment on social media, we just felt that this collection should uplift people’s spirits. We couldn’t stop thinking about wanting to dance as we miss it so much so we thought it was only natural for that to be the starting point for inspiration when it came to designing the collection.
CD: Would you say it was easier for both of you this time to create your collection during a pandemic?
RS: I don't know if it was easier, but we were definitely more focused on creating something that was uplifting for the audience.
VH: We haven’t gotten used to the idea of the pandemic, I would rather say we have accepted the situation for now and are, of course, hoping for it to become better. Right now we're making the best out of a bad situation in the realm of couture.
CD: What made you choose the theme of celebration and rave culture in general?
VH: We wanted to focus on the theme of celebration mainly because it’s so absent; it’s missing from our everyday lives and we feel its absence. We’ve always seen the idea of a show as an opportunity to visualise the aspects of ‘celebration’ so we just decided to 100% go for it. In a way, for this collection at least, everything is about the 'outside.' The decorations, the sparkles, the glitter, all of it. We’ve used surface treatments that represent an idea of opulence throughout the entire collection too, to fit in with the theme. A recurring theme in our work is also the reuse of archive fabrics and of archive materials; old vintage brooches that we’ve used in our embroidery designs, old beading, old buttons, it’s all there. Everything in the kitchen sink has been used to make this collection.
RS: There was also this constant underlying theme for us where we wanted to turn the negative that we’re all facing into something positive. This collection we’ve created is almost like a call to action. The video itself was filmed in an old munitions factory, you can see in the backdrop that there are golden plates and these were made from melted bullets. We felt by choosing this as a location it encouraged our theme of a rave and also the message of upcycling.
VH: Well, also, it’s about the need to transform. Transformation has always been a very important theme in our work. By shooting in this factory it also highlights the juxtaposition of haute couture - something that is obviously rooted in a tradition of craftsmanship and ultimate luxury - and turns it on its head entirely. The venue is a complete derelict factory and works with wanting to create a rave atmosphere. We know that raving and a munition factory are very ‘un-couture’ so we wanted to put those two things together. We feel this contradiction perfectly illustrated the theme of transformation quite well.
CD: Of course! Obviously you’re so well known for your amazing theatrical shows that often send out a message and I just wondered what the message was for this collection? Your last two collections S/S 19 and A/W 20 both created a perfect mixture between high and low culture from your use of memes and emoticons to beautiful couture gowns… how would you say the mixing of high and low culture is relevant to this collection and its message?
VH: It’s definitely relevant, yes. The decision to create couture pieces in the name of a rave...is how we came up with the title for this collection, Couture Rave. Also, when you look at the materials we use for the garments themselves there's quite a wide range from really exclusive lace and very high-end, proper quality couture fabrics to random bits of material we found on the street, or in a junkyard. I think that statement in itself highlights our love for mixing high and low culture, we don't exclude anything as long as it goes, and fits with the process and fits with the look. Really, anything goes.