Images by Team Peter Stigter
An inherent Protestantism / egalitarianism had meant that the Dutch had always favored a sense of style that stood athwart the flamboyance of the Brits, the flash of the Italians, the haute of the French. And it was earnestly hard to find fault with that philosophy, considering how well they wore it.
But in 1993, a pair of extravagantly visionary designers took to overthrow their country’s stylistic modesty – and since that time, Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren have veritably changed the way the world has thought about Dutch fashion design.
To mark the 25th anniversary of their stylistic insurrection, the Kunsthal Rotterdam has undertaken a career survey of the Viktor&Rolf fashion house – and the result, Viktor&Rolf: Fashion Artists 25 Years, is as breathtaking and perception-altering as one might expect from such a revolutionary pair.
As the exhibition opens this month (running until September 30), we pulled curator Thierry-Maxime Loriot – also responsible for the landmark show The Fashion World of Jean-Paul Gaultier – away from his busy schedule to discuss the “whys” and “why nows” of his paramount, and stunning presentation of the world of Viktor&Rolf.
What made this a good time for a career survey on Viktor & Rolf?
I think what we see as “art” is very personal, some paintings can be or cannot be considered real art. I see fashion and haute couture definitely as an artistic medium in which artists like Viktor&Rolf chose to express themselves; but not all fashion is “Art” with a capital “A.” In the case of V&R, there is a real way of thinking about fashion that was outside the box from the beginning, and that was not about trends and creating beautiful red carpet dresses for celebrities. It is not what their work is about. It is a very intelligent fashion that shows how you should push your ideas to create. I always like to try to understand it in a social context and look back on the impact it had on history and society.
What does their work mean to you, personally, and as a curator?
It is important historically to understand how Viktor&Rolf have been inventing a new way to present fashion, and also to reinvent the fashion system. The title of the exhibition is “Fashion Artists.” Visitors will understand how they are in their own category as artists, using fashion as their medium; their work is about how they opened the doors to a whole generation of young designers like Iris Van Herpen, who could have not existed without Viktor&Rolf, I think. Dutch fashion was pretty much wooden clogs back then.
And they changed all that?
They are the first Dutch designers to have international recognition. It is a very inspiring story, they could have stopped many times and they never gave up fulfilling their dream. It is a wonderful message about believing in yourself, even if you are from a small town with no fashion and entertainment connections. They marked fashion history, are still relevant season after season…and for example, when you look at the recent collections of Balenciaga, with the layers, and Alexander McQueen with the pink bows, it is a beautiful homage to see how they are still so influential.
How did you come to decide on the Kunsthal Rotterdam?
Rotterdam chose them and me! The Rotterdam Kunsthal director Emily Ansenk is a very good friend, and I love her team. It is one of the most singular museums in Europe, in terms of programming. Very avant-garde, modern and daring, not only showing beautiful paintings…but she really thinks outside of the (museum) box! Emily had the generosity of opening the doors of her museum to showcase the work of these Dutch national treasures, in their home country, to celebrate their 25th anniversary. They are very excited about it. It is my third collaboration with Kunsthal, since Jean Paul Gaultier and Peter Lindbergh.
How will the exhibition be arranged?
It is different universes in the five galleries, from the first dress they did and won the Hyères Festival with, to the latest collection. Viktor&Rolf were very generous in giving all of their sketches, and they were very open in terms of display. They have very strong themes, from rebellion to romanticism; they work the opposite of other fashion designers and they really are fashion artists. They first start with the idea of the show, how it will be presented, and they develop the collection around it. It is a different vision, it is their own language, and it is not about trends – it is about pushing ideas and not being worried of the social commentary.
So you would say that their work is as much art as it is fashion?
It is a new art form they invented and that they lead. When you will discover the Russian Doll collection, the Zen Garden collection as well, you understand how they created new dimensions in art and fashion, and the art of performing fashion. We did the selection of the pieces together. They are living artists, for me it is very important that visitors hear their voices as well. It is quite funny, because they made a list of works, I had one as well; and out of 50, we had 49 that were exactly the same So it was resolved quite quickly and easily…we pretty wanted exactly the same things!
It is a unique opportunity to see 25 years of work together, surely.
Even if you are invited to a haute couture fashion show, it lasts not even 20 minutes. This is an opportunity to take time to discover a singular world of Dutch haute couture savoir-faire. The selection is incredible, it is a “best of” I think, everything I could have wished for, and more.
What are some of the highlights for you?
The Russian Dolls collection definitely. And also for the first time, the clown costumes they created for Madonna for Art Basel Miami will be displayed. For me this is a definite highlight – I am a huge Madonna fan!