It will be difficult for Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren to ever top their Maggie-Rizer-on-a-turntable “Russian Doll” collection, and the fashion euphoria it unleashed back in 1999.
Returning to the couture stage on Wednesday night after a 13-year absence, the Dutch designers went for something altogether more contemplative, yet mesmerizing in its own way. Twenty models wearing sculptural black looks — one for each of their 20 years in fashion — moved at a snail’s pace across a rectangle printed with raked gravel, ultimately assembling in five clumps to approximate the famous Zen garden at the Ryoan-ji temple in Kyoto, Japan.
According to Wikipedia, the original landscape was built in the 15th century employing 15 boulders, positioned such that “only through enlightenment would one be able to view the 15th boulder.”
Bolder couture one is unlikely to see. The undulating, organic shapes were all realized in a spongy technical silk and engineered so that the models resembled stones when in the postures necessary to mimic the garden’s composition. It required curved seams, dimpled insets and 1,000 hours in the atelier to create spaghettilike strands mimicking grass.
“No beginning and no end. We want it to look as if it’s grown,” Horsting said during a preview. That’s all fine for a conceptual and indulgent fashion performance, but how might such austere clothes look on a flesh-and-blood woman?
Not too bad, it turns out. Mere rock formations when prostate or crouched, the silhouettes were varied and surprisingly fetching when models stood upright, ranging from a regal cutaway coat to a bulbous, pot-scrubber chubby sprouting those grasslike strands.
Dresses had an S-curve in profile, extra fabric bunching at the small of the back and past the knees. When models took their seats on small cushions, the designers arranged the dresses to hide limbs and match the raked patterns surrounding them.
Capes and coats had narrow, hunched shoulders like that Rizer show of yore, while flaring tops and tunics had neat polo collars.
During the preview, Horsting and Snoeren made it clear that couture is a platform to broadcast their more abstract and conceptual ideas, rather than a ploy to dress megawealthy women. (The fact that half the collection already sold to an unnamed art collector is stone-cold proof of that.)
Not that the duo didn’t allow a feminine flourish or two, including a big knot of fabric decorating the shoulder of one coat, sagging and deflated in a Claes Oldenburg way. Reasoned Horsting: “One bow won’t hurt.”