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Viktor&Rolf and Fashion&Art

The Kunsthal in Rotterdam is serving looks, craft and perspective with an exhibition that celebrates one of the country’s most applauded names in fashion

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Text by Rab Messina
Photography by Team Peter Stigter

It takes a certain kind of woman to wear Viktor&Rolf —two of its most celebrated public mannequins, Tilda Swinton and Tori Amos, come to mind. It also takes a certain kind of exhibition to thoughtfully share what it is that makes the world and the work of the Dutch duo so exquisitely unique.

The new retrospective on display at the Kunsthal in Rotterdam achieves just that.

In Viktor&Rolf: Fashion Artists 25 Years, guest curator Thierry-Maxime Loriot weaves a colourful thread through a selection of more than 60 pieces that are as much about laughter as they are about complete seriousness. Take, for example, the literality of the duo’s Red Carpet Dressing collection —a series of red-carpet-ready garments made from high-quality Desso carpets— and their Russian Doll haute couture presentation —a breathtaking display of imagination and craftsmanship that turned the lowly jute into sartorial gold and model Maggie Rizer into the most ridiculously sublime of matryoshkas. There are even everyday magazine pages turned into complex Jacquard-woven tapestries, doing double duty as caption text. The Dutch and their humor, may they never part.

But there was another thread running through the exhibition, made the more important given the fact that the venue is, in name and scope, a place for art: In today’s world of bottom-line-driven conglomerates, can fashion designers think like fashion artists and survive both economically and conceptually? The title of the exhibition was no coincidence: Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren make art for wear, at a pace and cost that often clashes with market requirements —case in point: a coat with a large stuffed NO, referencing their refusal to churn out collections on speedy demand, and notes on their struggle to find a winning business model, shifting between ready-to-wear and couture. “We don’t know how other designers work but, in general, fashion is not very concept-driven,” they explained to Loriot. “It is more about style: a feeling how people should look. A lot of designers are really good at this. We are very much ideas-oriented, content-driven. We need a concept before we start looking at fabrics or colours, otherwise it is meaningless to us.”

But with the revolving door of artistic directors at heritage fashion houses spinning faster than one can say “Sartori Ackermann Van Assche”, as well as the increasing emotional and creative investment of trying to stay one step ahead of the fast-fashion copycats, one can’t help but think that with this mindset the duo are offering a viable alternative. Or at least, in the extraordinarily precious and generous bubble the Kunsthal has created, where everything can be beautiful and no market trend can hurt, they are.

Viktor&Rolf: Fashion Artists 25 Years is on display until September 30

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Ready-to-wear collection (AW 08/09)
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Wearable Art
Haute couture collection (AW 15/16)
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Installation view of Viktor&Rolf: Fashion Artists 25 Years at the Kunsthal Rotterdam
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Hyères Dress
Hyères collection (1993)
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Shalom
Ready-to-wear collection (SS 2009)
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Russian Doll
Haute couture collection (AW 1999)
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Russian Doll
Haute couture collection (AW 1999)
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The Chainsaw Massacre, Cutting Edge Couture
Ready-to-wear collection (SS 2010)
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Performance of Sculptures
Haute couture collection (SS 2016)
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Hana - Bedtime Story collection
(AW 2005)
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Wedding Dress for HRH Princess Mabel of Orange- Nassau (2004)
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Stage costumes Der Freischütz presented at the Festspielhaus Baden-Baden (April 2009)
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Van Gogh Girls
Haute couture collection (SS 2015)
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Viktor&Rolf with curator Thierry Maxime-Loriot
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