Viktor & Rolf Aims for New Peaks

Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren just moved into sprawling new headquarters in Amsterdam that are emblematic of their growing business.

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PARIS — Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren just moved into sprawling new headquarters in Amsterdam, so large that everyone gets their own office — except the men whose initials are above the door in the form of a gold seal 7 feet in diameter.

“We of course share one office,” quipped Snoeren with a knowing chuckle, given their reputation as the Gilbert and George of fashion. “It’s the biggest room in the building.”

The swanky digs, in a heritage 1903 building by the same architect who did the Stedelijk Museum, are emblematic of their growing business. In an interview here Monday, the Dutch duo disclosed a number of initiatives, including:

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  • Opening the first flagship Viktor & Rolf unit on Milan’s Via Sant’Andrea in April.

  • New licensing agreements with two Italian firms: Iris for footwear and Mantero for underwear, silk scarves and neckties.
  • Adding pre-collections, effective this season, to grow ready-to-wear sales.
  • Establishing a custom-order business to dress such celebrity devotees as Gwen Stefani, Mischa Barton and Ellen DeGeneres.

What’s more, Snoeren said he and Horsting are now ready to do even more. “There is space to tackle other subjects and labels,” Snoeren said. “Until now, we were not open to it. At a certain moment, you realize the more you do, the easier it gets.”

Even if there are no offers on the table from major luxury brands to take over their design reins, Viktor and Rolf have plenty to keep them occupied in the coming months — including a slew of personal appearances in support of Flowerbomb, their first perfume with L’Oréal, rolling out this spring, and the Milan boutique.

For the latter project, and the headquarters, the designers were obliged to look within themselves and discover their taste in interiors.

“We noticed it was very classic,” Snoeren deadpanned.

The 6,500-square-foot headquarters, with a style Horsting described as a mix of “weird Art Nouveau and English country,” was largely left intact with its extensive and intricate wood paneling and ceilings. The pair has come a long way from their first digs, which were not much larger than a studio apartment with a makeshift plywood worktable.

As for the 1,000-square-foot boutique, in a space previously occupied by Marni and Helmut Lang, Snoeren was more cryptic about its gray and white decor, which will have a conceptual bent, much like their collections.

“Classic, but twisted,” Snoeren offered, eager not to diminish the surprise factor. “Let’s just say we were looking for a different perspective at an interior.”

Horsting characterized the forthcoming boutique, which will house the complete Viktor & Rolf offering, including men’s wear, as a tool for “having direct contact with how the collection is performing and reacting to that.”

For all their notoriety, as the masterminds of some of the most theatrical fashion shows in Paris, the Viktor & Rolf business remains relatively small. The collection, produced and distributed by Italy’s Gibò, generates about $9 million at wholesale via about 130 accounts.

But Gibò president Franco Penè said the business is “progressing well,” particularly in Europe and Asia.

Showmanship aside, the designers are clearly interested in commercial success. That shoes created by their in-house accessories designer Fredie Stevens got sundry editorial credits, but scarcely sold, is a sore point, which the license with Iris should remedy. The first complete collection is for fall.

A recent tour of Mantero’s facilities in Como revealed capabilities to do underwear, upon which Snoeren and Horsting seized, in addition to the ties and scarves. “We really wanted to do things in silk,” Snoeren said, noting that a women’s line will debut first at retail in spring 2006, followed by men’s one season later.

A global eyewear license is also in the works. To date, Viktor & Rolf only has one for Japan with Murai.

Meanwhile, advertising for Flowerbomb is hitting women’s fashion magazines, which the designers said will help raise their profile.

They acknowledge the U.S. is still a weak link in their business, but that could change this fall. “Colors,” a Viktor & Rolf-curated exhibition that attracted some 350,000 visitors in Tokyo, takes up residence in December at the Cooper-Hewitt design museum in New York.

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