VIKTOR & ROLF: Fashion Artists for 25 Years at the Kunsthal Rotterdam

Ever woken up and thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cosy to stay in bed instead of getting dressed for the office?’ Viktor & Rolf have the answer with their iconic piece Bedtime Story – just fix your pillow to your head, keep you blanket wrapped around you and off you go.

Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren, the two Dutch eccentric fashion designers have been around since the early 1990s. Days after graduating from Arnhem academy of art and design they decamped to Paris, living in penury for their art, drawing by candle light in an unsanitary room, all the while hoping to attract the attention of the top fashion houses. Their first ‘collection’ was presented entirely on dolls. After working their way through the world of Haute Couture and making a lot of waves with their uncompromising, almost constructivist approach to fashion, they decided to ditch their Prêt-Porter lines and devoted themselves entirely to the art of Haute Couture – but not as one usually understands it, art with a capital A being the operative word. For them the human body is the scaffolding for their imaginations. Where other designers feared to tread, they charged ahead, designing with a total lack of inhibition and exuberance not seen before.

The exhibition traces their unstoppable progress over twenty five years. In answer to the credit crunch they created their Chainsaw Massacre pieces – huge tulle dresses with giant holes cut into them –exactly as if they had accidentally passed too close to a chainsaw in full flow. To see these supremely elegant dresses ‘massacred’ in this way is at once hilarious and a little scary. Everything Viktor & Rolf do is over the top. Their designs show none of seedy SM overtones of Gaultier but have a total freshness to them. Their black outfits for motor cyclists are festooned with shiny ribbons (all the models sported black motorcycle helmets, visors down, as they paraded over the catwalk like gazelles).

Only the Atomic Bomb pieces were a little creepy with the upper torso part inflated to resemble an atomic cloud, thus deforming the human figure. The Van Gogh line, with vast head dresses some two meters wide made from piles of straw with material gathered into a ‘dress’ of such a volume that the wearer could not pass through a door. In contrast one piece, apparently simple, in a rich red towelling and tied in a huge bow, echoing the early Dior or St Laurent, reminds us that under the eccentricity lurks the work of two hugely talented designers who are master tailors. I was reminded of what I was told in art school – if you want to paint like Picasso, draw like Raphael first.

My absolute favourite are the ‘dresses’ made of painted canvasses, sporting gilded frames, as if the model had strolled through the Maurits Huis in Den Haag, ripped a priceless painting by Rembrandt or Vermeer off the wall, ripped it up and draped the pieces around her body – great fun.

This exhibition is a gift for all students, artists and designers to inspire them to go where no man has dared go before.     Astrid Burchardt       2nd June 2018


VIKTOR & ROLF: Fashion Artists for 25 Years continues at the Kunsthal in Rotterdam until 30th September