In the lush manicured gardens of Victoria’s National Gallery I sit alongside Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren… “Fashion Artist’s”, more recognisably known as Viktor & Rolf.
Yellow butterfly’s float between us, along with the soft subtle hum of bee’s. Spring is in full force and you can sense that there is something in the air. Perhaps it’s just the bee’s and the familiar rhythm of this time of year, or perhaps it’s something else, something more like anticipation, that magical kind of anticipation that seems to have followed Viktor and Rolf from their humble post-graduate beginnings to the grand stage of Parisian Haute Couture.
From an early onset it was clear that the Viktor and Rolf partnership was fuelled by a united passion for the conceptualisation of wearable art. Over the course of almost 25 years both Viktor and Rolf have created some of the most iconic and symbolic works of art to grace the female form. Viktor & Rolf: Fashion Artist’s is a celebration of this work, with around 40 of the most significant pieces selected by both Viktor and Rolf, along with international guest curator and close friend Thierry-Maxime Loriot.
As we sit outside together amongst the Spring time buzz, I think about the energy inside the exhibition as the final finishing touches are laid in place before the official open day. Packing, shipping and re-constructing 40 individual Haute Couture looks may seem like a heroic effort but one well worth it when you enter the NGV. Two large rooms not only display these incredible pieces, other elements include Viktor & Rolf’s miniaturised Couture dolls and wall sized handmade tapestries complete the installation.
There are so many intricate details and stories to discover, but before you visit I would love to share with you my conversations with Viktor and Rolf about their true inspirations in the lead up to the exhibition. So without further anticipation I hope that you enjoy .. Viktor & Rolf: Fashion Artists …
I would love to talk to you both today about art, before I began Oracle Fox I was a visual artist and I thought that because you’re both so creative and so artistic, rather than speak specifically about fashion we could talk about art and the crossover between the two.
R: That sounds wonderful.
Obviously the exhibition is a retrospective of your works over the previous 25 years. I’m sure you’re also working on your next collection? How does it feel to be looking ahead and designing for the future and to be looking back at your previous collections at the same time.
R: Well it’s very important for us not to just think backwards, and just make it a retrospective. That’s why we really wanted to make new work as well for the NGV, such as the tapestries and the time piece. Did you see the installation where the doll comes out on the runway by the way?
Yes! It was like fashion week.. it was hard to get a seat, ha ha..
– There is laughter amongst all of us –
R: So it’s important for us to cherish the past and look forward at the same time.
Yes of course, and I guess you feel the same way Viktor?
V: Yes, Making new work… When we do a show like this it’s always a great opportunity to also make new work that’s not necessarily clothes. So the tapestries are specially made for the context of this exhibition.
And did you enjoy that specific process? Was it a challenge or did you feel that this process would come easily?
V: No, no it’s great, it’s an idea that we’ve been playing with for a long time. So it was a great opportunity to finally execute it. And the tapestries are another elaboration of the same idea as the dolls if you will, because time is a very important theme in our work. Time and the desire to make time stand still and to cherish what we have. And with the tapestries, it’s a press clipping, so it reads as though it’s the news of the day but it’s made to last forever, because it’s a tapestry. The dolls are similar, because they’re antique dolls, but they’re wearing contemporary fashion so it’s historicising our work.
So it’s a very clever juxtaposition?
V: Yes, absolutely.
And I love the fact that for five years, prior to you starting the Viktor & Rolf brand, you were experimenting with other mediums. Thierry has mentioned that you had experimented in three dimensional work and sculpture. Do you have much of an opportunity these days to apply your skills to other mediums? For example do you ever paint or draw outside of the work that you produce in a fashion sense?
R: We love to draw! The wallpaper in the exhibition is 20 years of our sketches laid out onto the walls. And additionally the tapestries that we made are like a new type of work.
V: But you know, when you’re creative you can do anything..
Yes, I guess that you don’t need to restrict your skills to just one area.
R: But I must say that the couture shows take a lot of time.
I can only imagine! How long do you feel it takes to create a collection for a Couture show? I know that the process involved would be quite time consuming..
V: Yes, it’s really half a year. So as soon as one collection is started, we have to start on the next one.
I’m guessing that at the moment you’re obviously working on your next collection. How do you find inspiration? Is it an organic process? Are you ever inspired by social media or images that you come across in the digital space or do you prefer to immerse yourself for instance in an art gallery for inspiration?
R: It usually starts by talking, we sit opposite each other at a table and we talk about how we feel.
V: Our work is very much sometimes like a self portrait, the things we’ve seen. Inspiration is never one dimensional, it’s never one subject, it’s multi faceted, it comes from everything. So it’s difficult to say ‘Oh, it’s this’.
Which reminds me of your Fall 2008 Ready To Wear show, where the word ‘NO’ was so predominantly featured across the collection. You’ve mentioned that it felt good to say No to so many things and that the collection was a way of getting that off your chest. It’s a form of expression really isn’t it? Do you personally have the opportunity to spend much tine in art galleries when you’re working so hard?
R: Well, when we travel, we usually try to stay in a place a little bit longer, we go to museums and galleries, it’s a nice way for us to see what’s going on.
And I’m guessing it’s also a lovely way to relax as well. Are you able to share with us whether you have any favourite artists?
R: I really love Canadian artist called David Altmejd. He makes a lot of sculptural work, it’s really quite amazing.
When you’re working on a collection, do you ever have a muse in mind or are you ever inspired by a particular person?
V: No not necessarily, we never really work that way, except for one collection. We usually tend to think of the garment as the end product. As a sculpture almost.
Yes, I guess that your collections seem to have a voice of their own, and it is the muse itself in some way?
V: Yes, we don’t think of a type of woman or man.
R: It’s really for everybody who loves and enjoys it.
Through your career as couture designers would you say that there’s been a defining moment in your journey? I know that when you began you enjoyed 5 years of experimentation before you began to show full collections, maybe the moment was when you began to officially show your work?
R: Yes I think that was the moment, then everything fell into place. That was really the moment the international press took notice.
Speaking from my own experience as an artist, I feel as though when you’re putting yourself out there, it’s quite a vulnerable experience and I’m sure that you feel the same way when you launch a new collection. How do you handle criticism, or the critiques, or the interpretation of what people think of your work.
R: It’s very simple, we don’t read it anymore. We don’t read any reviews because sometimes you’re too vulnerable and it just helps not to read it. And you always hear via word of mouth what the reactions are, but I find it hard to read.
V: Good or bad.
In some way, when I paint, I feel like once I’ve completed an artwork I like to release it. I feel as though once it’s done and it’s out there that it’s open to any type of interpretation and people have the right to have their own opinion about how they feel about it I guess.
V: Yes, absolutely. When we make something, we put it out in the world.
R: I think as well that with so many deadlines and so many shows, it can’t always be the ‘the best ever’, accepting that is all part of it.
Are you excited about what you’re creating together for the next collection?
V: Yes always. Theres always the desire to start and again to create something new. That’s also the ultimate thrill, the eureka moment. To come up with something new. At the same time it can be tough, but we love it.
The anticipation must be quite overwhelming when it all comes together, is this a process that can happen quite quickly towards the end or do you find it to be a very calm process?
V: It varies from once season to the other, sometimes it goes like this (Viktor acts out a very fast hand gesture) and sometimes it’s…
V&R: A struggle
– We all laugh –
It’s interesting isn’t it, because that’s the true definition of being an artist. You have to go with whatever feeling you have inside, if you feel like it’s all happening at once then I find that it’s good to let it out, however sometimes if the mood is different it can be more about taking your time and allowing the ideas to come to you ..
R: In Fashion sometimes, there’s no time. But as an artist, you’re more free.
I suppose that you could say that in fashion the demand is always there for the next season. People are hungry and there’s the desire for more ..
V: There’s always a date.. That is your show, that’s the next deadline.
Yes, that’s the difference with an art exhibition in a way. You can perhaps work with a gallery on a timeline that works for both parties, but with fashion seasons there’s no real negotiation. You’re provided a date that you must stick too..
V: Yes but there’s also something positive about it. It’s also like someone gives you a kick in the butt (we laugh). Otherwise we wouldn’t do it. (laughing). Be active, do something!
It’s like having a school teacher say to you ‘come on, how are we going here. are you going to complete your work in time?’
V: It’s not always a bad thing.
I know this is a little bit of an unusual question… But I was wondering what your most treasured possession is?
R: What comes to mind is my friendship with Viktor. After so many years we have such a strong friendship, that is really a treasured possession.
Yes of course, that makes so much sense. And for you Viktor? I guess that you can’t say something else now, haha ..
-both Viktor and Rolf are laughing-
V: Aaah yes, I can’t top this!
Viktor .. you know that now you can’t really say ‘my dog’
V: Ha ha ha .. Yes!
I love how your shows are not conventional and there’s something theatrical about that, and I was wondering what the future holds for you? Do you every think about what shows will be like in the future? Not just for yourself but for the industry in general?
R: For more than 20 years we’ve always thought about our future and our career, and being so ambitious, it’s just a different mind set. We don’t really want to think so much anymore about what we have to do and what we want to do.
V: The future
R: It’s already a gift to enjoy.
Yes, that’s a beautiful way of thinking about it, because now you can concentrate on the now and being present, which is what the Zen collection was about. Well thank you both so much for your time and for both providing us with some incredible inspiration.
V&R: Yes, thank you so much.
R: Will we see you tonight at the Opening Dinner?
Yes absolutely, I wouldn’t miss it for the world!
A special thank you to the amazing team at the NGV and our beautiful friends at L’oreal Luxe for making this all possible.
The Viktor & Rolf Fashion Artists exhibition is showing until February 26th.