PARIS — Paris Couture Week marks the 25th anniversary of Viktor & Rolf, the label founded by Dutch designers Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren.
A retrospective of their designs, titled “Viktor & Rolf: Fashion Artists 25 Years,” opened at Rotterdam’s Kunsthal in late May. And on July 4, the day of their fall haute couture show, Phaidon will publish “Viktor & Rolf: Cover Cover,” a 520-page conceptual tome designed by Irma Bloom.
Prized for their experimental approach to fashion and reverence for glamour, Horsting and Snoeren started collaborating after graduating from the Netherlands’ Arnhem Academy. They shot to prominence in 1993 by winning the International Festival of Fashion and Photography in Hyères, France.
Two of fashion’s consummate showmen, Snoeren and Horsting have incorporated elements such as fog, pyrotechnics and scaffolding into their shows. For their Russian Doll collection in 1999, the designers dressed Maggie Rizer in nine layers of Swarovski crystal-embellished garments, creating a sensation.
In an interview, Horsting talked about designing as therapy, selling the dream and how the duo are seeking a new balance by following their intuition.
WWD: What do you feel about celebrating your 25th anniversary?
Viktor Horsting: Pride, actually. We just opened a big exhibition here in Rotterdam.
It coincides beautifully with the 25th anniversary so in terms of celebration, it made us both feel very proud to see the results of 25 years.
It’s very personal. We always say it’s a little bit like a self-portrait or therapy, if you will, sometimes. We use our work to express ourselves, obviously, also to work through our emotions, but then to be able to share it here, with people we are close to, makes it even more of an intimate experience.
It’s a very strict selection of 25 years of work, so it’s a bit like all the mistakes and all the hard work have been erased, but it’s not nostalgic. To us, it feels relevant and contemporary, and in a way, timeless, as well.
WWD: You are about to publish a book with Phaidon to mark the anniversary. It’s designed by Irma Bloom and it’s a totally unusual object, made up entirely of eight-page gatefolds, with all the images reproduced as negatives. How did the project come about?
V.H.: The great thing about this book is that it’s not a retrospective of 25 years, it’s a work in itself, like an autonomous piece about book-making, about what a book could be.
We gave Irma total carte blanche. We’ve known her for a very long time and we’ve been friends for a very long time — we even used to be neighbors. Her work is so great and somehow, she is so radical, we had the feeling if we could trust anyone, it would be her.
At first, I must say that when she proposed this, we had to get used to the idea, but we had the feeling that’s a good thing. It’s an extreme statement, I think.
WWD: How has your working relationship with Rolf Snoeren evolved over these 25 years?
V.H.: I’d say that essentially, we’ve always worked together in the same way. We never really describe who does what. There is something that just works. We don’t analyze it too much.
We both, if anything, trust our intuition even more than we used to.
WWD: Do you have plans to celebrate the anniversary?
V.H.: We celebrated the very day we started working together, which was actually Dec. 1, 1992. That was a day we just spent together looking at pictures.
WWD: What happened that day?
V.H.: That’s the day we drove to Paris, and that was also the day we made our first drawing together. So literally Dec. 1, 1992, is the day our collaboration started.
We wanted to see if we could get a job. We had just finished school. In Holland, there was nothing to do, obviously. We had this ambition and this dream of going to Paris: fashion, the big houses — the dreams you have when you are a student. But the dream basically was to work for a big house, just to somehow enter the fashion system, and we had no idea how to do that.
WWD: You entered the Hyères International Festival of Fashion and Photography the following year.
V.H.: We just saw it as a networking opportunity, but then we won.
We didn’t think that it would last 25 years. We didn’t even think that we would become a label.
WWD: When you started, you produced noncommercial collections that were more like artistic statements. Do you think this would be possible in today’s climate?
V.H.: At the time when we were doing it, it wasn’t possible, either — not really. A lot of it now is in museums and collections, but a lot of it was bought way after we made it. It was really tough in the beginning, and we did a lot of other odd jobs on the side to finance what we were doing. We were just dead poor — everything went into the work. In that sense, we weren’t very different from when you start out now: you put everything you have in your work and you try to somehow create a business out of it.
WWD: Your fragrance license with L’Oréal in 2002 introduced you to a global audience. What do you remember about the launch of your debut fragrance, Flowerbomb?
V.H.: We created Flowerbomb like we create everything else we do: it was purely a creative proposition. We didn’t really think about a target audience. We were not thinking about it in a very commercial way, and L’Oréal just let us do it. They just trusted what we were doing, and we had no idea, obviously, that it would be such a success.
It was our intention to show how fragrance is an integral part of our universe, it’s not just a lifeless product. And we still love working on our fragrances. It’s always a great challenge that you have to express an idea in a fragrance bottle, an image, packaging — and that’s it. It has to be really concise, really focused.
The nice thing about perfume is that you are selling the dream. Sometimes, what we find difficult with fashion is that there is the show, the show is the dream, and then there’s all these products, but all these products don’t necessarily make it into the store the way they’ve been on the catwalk, so you can only hope that part of the dream gets to the store, and then hope that people get it. It’s a much more difficult chain to control.
WWD: You returned to couture in 2013 after a 13-year absence, but stopped producing ready-to-wear in 2015. How do you see the future of the brand?
V.H.: For a while, we tried to work in a way that we thought things were supposed to go, as if we were trying to figure out what was the correct way to do things, instead of just listening to our own emotions and going along with that. What we’re trying to do now is see how we can work in fashion in a way that we feel comfortable with and that we like, and that works for us creatively.
Fashion is a form of communication. We want to do more than just show couture.
It’s like the center, the basis of what we do now, but next to that we felt that we wanted to do more.
WWD: In 2016, you launched a bridal collection with Justin Alexander, and last year you added Viktor & Rolf Soir, a line of special occasion dresses, with the same partner.
V.H.: It’s a different way of working than we used to. The collections are much smaller and they’re very different, because wedding dresses and evening dresses, they’re like one-offs, in a way. It’s not this very complex puzzle, where all the pieces have to fit together somehow.
Even though we’re 25 years down the road, we’re still trying to find a way of working that fits us. We’re much more aware of how we want to do it on our own terms.