By  on June 17, 2008

Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren would never be expected to mount a straightforward retrospective of their fashion work. In the case of the show opening Wednesday and running through Sept. 21 at London's Barbican, they literally took a doll's-eye view.

For the exhibit "The House of Viktor & Rolf, " which looks back at 15 years of their work, Horsting and Snoeren have re-created 55 looks from their past collections for a series of porcelain dolls. The designers created a 28-foot-high house, complete with intricately detailed doorways and spiral staircases, with architect Siebe Tettero and it stands as an arresting centerpiece to the exhibition. In the cavernous gallery space all around, meanwhile, life-sized porcelain dolls wear the collections in their original model sizes, while videos of the corresponding runway shows play. The duo is set to mark the exhibit's launch with a party at the gallery Wednesday night.

"Dolls, and projecting ambitions for the future by using dolls, is something that we've been working on for a long time," says Horsting, adding that in 1996 the duo created an installation in Amsterdam of miniature clothes, along with an imagined doll-size fashion show and atelier, called "Launch" to fulfill their as-yet unrealized dreams of having a fashion business. "We must say that we almost prefer the outfit on a doll than on a real scale," says Snoeren of the current exhibition. "The past almost becomes like a cartoon, it becomes very manageable," adds Horsting.

The exhibition employs dolls to take a chronological look at Horsting and Snoeren's career. One doll wears a voluminous black and gray wool and silk dress flecked with silver sequins, a creation that won the designers first prize at the Hyères International Festival of Fashion competition in 1993, while another wears a wedding dress they designed for Princess Mabel van Orange-Nassau of Holland in 2003, fashioned from duchesse satin and covered with 248 white bows. And in one of the 24 rooms in the house, three of the dolls wear the fall 2007 "Fashion Show" collection, complete with self-sufficient spotlights rigged to their outfits and music blaring from each doll. "Even in miniature, it's all working, they all have their own energy source," says Snoeren.Horsting and Snoeren worked with a Belgian doll maker to make both the miniature dolls and the heads of the life-size dolls, painstakingly re-creating the different makeup looks that models have worn in their various shows. Some of the dolls' faces have been painted black, while others wear vivid red eyeliner and some sport copper-colored hair, to represent their fall 2003 collection inspired by Tilda Swinton. Replicating their pieces for dolls required hours of additional work by their ateliers, the designers say.

"It was like [doing] 30 collections," says Horsting, explaining some of the patterns and prints had to be redesigned to fit the scale of a doll.

Snoeren says working on the exhibition encouraged the partners to expand their creative vision. "We can imagine making work that's not necessarily clothes or a catwalk show," he says, adding they created a three-dimensional Web site,, at the same time.

But Horsting stressed the exhibition's influence wouldn't turn up too literally in their next show. "I don't see us necessarily creating a dolls collection," he says with a laugh. "But everything's related."


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