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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

The House of Viktor & Rolf

Barbican, 18 June - 21 Sept, 2008

Written by Matt Bramford


Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeron, aka Viktor & Rolf, got skills. This summer sees the highly acclaimed fashion designers present their entire time together in an exhibition at the Barbican, and what an exhibition it is.

It’s rare that fashion designers present their collections in galleries – since Vivienne Westwood’s retrospective at the V&A in 2004, there has been little to celebrate the makers of fashion as we know it – especially on this grand scale.

The exhibiton showcases their work from humble beginnings in 1993, when the pair launched their first collection, aptly titled ‘Launch’ – to varying acclaim. Never to follow the norm, the duo presented this collection entirely in minature – with models (of the replica sense) of a catwalk show, the pieces they had designed and even the simultaneous advertising campaigns.

It seems, then, that V&R have come full circle, presenting to us here their collections in their stunning lifesize glory AND in model replica. On Level 3 of the Barbican (the one with rooms spanning from the balcony), you might think that this exhibition space had been purpose built to display fashion collections, but this is not the case. Thanks to exhibition designer Siebe Tettero and the ready state of this 1960s brutalist masterpiece of a building, the space has been transformed to allow viewers to freely move between collections. The centrepiece of the show is a stunning three storey Georgian doll’s house which fills the centre of the room. Each room in the house has no exterior wall, and has a different doll of about 1 or 2 feet tall, wearing an exact replica of dresses from each collection. Incredible. Silver binoculars are provided to view the detail of the pieces from the viewing platforms. The V&R emblem is brandished (no pun intended) at the top of the house, and some of the dolls even look longingly in the direction of their life size counterparts.

On Thursdays, as part of the Lates season of late night art events, the Barbican presents different workshops and talks about matters surrounding the duo and fashion in general. The first featured talks about themes in the collections, and I had the enviable pleasure of meeting Emma Cammack, a body artist who had been commissioned to produce two bodies based on themes from V&R’s collections. Emma has worked for a variety of high profile clients in advertising, fashion and film, and it was a joy to see the models come to life.


Highlights from the exhibition, in no particular order, include: Flowerbomb (SS05) which tied with the launch of the duo’s first fragrance. Black chiffon dresses with bow details and black bicycle helmets were presented on the catwalk, with the models stalling at the back of the stage. When all models had taken their turn, the stage revolved to reveal an almost identical collection but in baby pink. Following this stunning piece of theatre was never going to be easy, but then came Bedtime Story (AW05-06) where V&R took the bed to the catwalk, with the infamous mix of duvets and sheets. Duvets became extravangant dresses with ‘I love you’ spralled across, mostly in white with red defining features. The collection relies on quilted fabrics and takes on board old bed linen processes such as broderie anglais, a specific type of stitch.

The most stunning aspect of the exhibition is the realisation that Viktor & Rolf are capable of concept after concept, and no two seasons are the same. The ‘One Woman Show’ collection of AW03-04 is the work of geniuses. After a chance meeting with actress Tilda Swinton, the pair were so enthralled by her presence at unique style that they devoted an entire collection to her – with even the models made to have her stark, androgynous appearance. Sharp tailored suits emphasising and advancing the human form were presented to reflect the theme of androgyny. This is the complete opposite of the very feminine ‘Silver’ collection of AW06-07, featuring more feminine shapes like the Dior silhouette popularised by the New Look collection of the fifties (low busts, small waists and large skirts). nude lycra tulle number with oversized embroidered stars shows the designer duo’s ability to challenge fashion norms.

And if that wasn’t enough to make you gush with envy or start saving for the ‘I Love You’ wedding dress, take the ‘The Fashion Show’ collection of AW07-08. V&R make the model a walking fashion entity – they each have their own outfit (featuring traditional Dutch checks and pleats with a contemporary twist), lighting (the models wear scaffolding above their heads, rigged with lights, which presents the silhouette of a ancestral Dutch milk maiden) and music (said rigs were fitted with individual music systems, and speakers). This metal structure not only provides the support for sound and light, but on a more artistic scale enhances the silhoutette and modifies the human form we are accustomed to – a key theme throughout V&R’s luminescent history.

Viktor and Rolf’s first UK exhibition is an inspirational tour of their illustrious history, even for those not overtly interested in fashion. So switly decide between your nude tulle number or your duvet, brush your hair over a pillow, pick out your favourite clogs, and head down to the Barbican for what might be the best fashion exhibition we get in 2008.

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2 Responses to “The House of Viktor & Rolf”

  1. Sarah says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever been so deeply affected by a -sorry to say it- ‘mere’ fashion exhibition. Viktor and Rolf are the highest conceptual art I’ve seen in a long time. Their work is not easy to look at, these are no frilly lifeless beauties. This stuff has guts and demands thought and a reaction.

    Sometimes it’s so beyond ridiculous (the ‘russian doll collection’ where the model is swallowed by ever growing capes, for example)that you know comedy satirists would have a field day…but Viktor and Rolf seem deadly serious, making it all the more unnerving.

    I felt so sorry for the models involved in the ‘Fashion Show’ collection – heavy rigging attached to their shoulders and having to strut in the least safe shoes I’ve ever seen! But for V&R, the art takes precedence over everything.

    I was so glad I saw this exhibit at the Barbican. I left feeling mystified, enchanted and down right wierded out… but ultimately hungry for more.

  2. [...] exhibition is free, which should have been a sign it wasn’t going to match up to the epic Victor and Rolf exhibition at the Barbican way back in 2008. Based on the coffee-table tome published by Rizzoli, the show is basically an [...]

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