Fash­ion Artists

Neue Luxury - - News - By Paul Tier­ney

I’m pos­ing ques­tions to Dutch fash­ion de­sign­ers Vik­tor Horsting and Rolf Sno­eren that are a lit­tle more search­ing than most. In­stead of ask­ing about their hit fra­grance, Flower­bomb (one bot­tle sold ev­ery three min­utes), or their pri­vate re­la­tion­ship (for­mer part­ners, now plu­tonic—for the record), I’m plun­der­ing sociology, an­thro­pol­ogy, in fact, any - ol­ogy I can muster. It’s done in the spirit of this au­da­cious pair: a lit­tle bit grand, a touch whim­si­cal and a whole lot fab­u­lous. Af­ter all, they’re worth it. Who else can you think of in their mi­lieu, blend­ing fash­ion, art and brand-iden­tity to such in­ter­na­tional ac­claim? Vik­tor&rolf do not do fast fash­ion, they cre­ate haute cou­ture in the style of vis­ual artists; clothes, if such a de­scrip­tion did them jus­tice, that de­light and in­spire. The pair are both the brains and cre­ative brawn be­hind ex­traor­di­nar­ily unique pieces, ac­quired by col­lec­tors, and dis­played in mu­se­ums all over the world. In Oc­to­ber 2016, the Na­tional Gallery of Vic­to­ria (NGV) in Aus­tralia will present, Fash­ion Artists, a show, that much like them­selves, is a very big deal.

Amaz­ingly, for men joined at the hip, Horsting is rid­ing solo to­day. The pair en­joy a par­tic­u­larly close re­la­tion­ship— fin­ish­ing each other’s sen­tences, in­hab­it­ing each other’s minds— and seem al­most tele­pathic in their sim­i­lar­ity. Does he mind sit­ting there alone? “It’s fine, I’m not wor­ried. Be­lieve it or not, it some­times hap­pens. I’m just hop­ing that your ques­tions are not too … dif­fi­cult.” So there is life be­yond Rolf? “Our friend­ship is the ba­sis of ev­ery­thing we do, but we can be au­ton­o­mous too. We hardly ever talk on the phone though. We both don’t like it.”

While the mild-man­nered aes­thete may not have sup­port to­day, he seems re­mark­ably re­laxed none­the­less. He also speaks English with the type of pre­cise Dutch ac­cent that puts most Bri­tish peo­ple to shame. The gram­mar is clipped and man­nered but warmed by a ca­sual in­flec­tion that sug­gests a wry smile at the cor­ner of his mouth. “I think I can cope.”

In 1992, Horsting and Sno­eren grad­u­ated from the fash­ion depart­ment of Holland’s Arn­hem Academy (“the best”) and then swiftly de­canted to Paris, de­sign­ing their future from a shoe­box apart­ment in a res­o­lutely un­fash­ion­able neigh­bour­hood. A year later, their first col­lec­tion— based on de­con­struc­tion—won three prizes at the Fes­ti­val In­ter­na­tional de Mode et de Pho­togra­phie in Hyere, France, pre­sent­ing old suits that had been cut up and re-stitched to­gether. Their sec­ond col­lec­tion (”a scream for at­ten­tion”) de­stroyed a dress with per­for­mance-like fi­nesse (‘we am­pu­tated the arms, burnt it, cut it”) some­thing more akin to art than fash­ion and the blue­print for much of what would fol­low. They pro­duced in­stal­la­tions in gal­leries, cre­ated con­cep­tual, wear­able art to ex­act­ing stan­dards, and skill­fully, al­most sub­con­sciously, sub­verted per­ceived no­tions of dress. “I think in our minds there wasn’t a blue­print. We had a no­tion of want­ing to work at a very high level, and to us, mak­ing clothes and mak­ing col­lec­tions, there was a stan­dard which we thought was im­por­tant to live up to. We al­ways strived to make ev­ery­thing look like a mil­lion bucks, even though there was noth­ing.”

Peo­ple won­der about the point of Vik­tor&rolf, whether their con­cep­tual art should be worn or merely ob­served. They re­main, to this eye, vi­tally un­ortho­dox, push­ing pa­ram­e­ters of what is ac­cept­able, while chal­leng­ing ev­ery­thing in their path. Fash­ion cul­ture can be va­pid and dis­pos­able at the best of times, but to them, it tran­scends the idea of mere clothes. “In our world, fash­ion can be much more than style. Hav­ing said that, of course, to many peo­ple, that’s what they think fash­ion is. We’ve al­ways used it as a tool, as a means of self­ex­pres­sion, which is still quite un­usual I think.”

This self-ex­pres­sion has found myr­iad forms. Their work can be in­tro­verted one sea­son, ex­trav­a­gant the next. It plays with shape and scale, of­ten com­ment­ing on a fash­ion world that feels slightly for­eign. To the naysay­ers, this ten­dency to over in­tel­lec­tu­alise has made them hard to de­fine. “Over-in­tel­lec­tu­alise?” he scoffs, “even the word it­self is deroga­tory. Do you mean, do we care about what peo­ple write about us? We like to make things that can be looked at in dif­fer­ent ways that are mul­ti­fac­eted. It can be ap­proached from a pro­fes­sional an­gle, or any num­ber of ways. We make it, we put it out, and, well, the world can do with it what it wants!”

Horsting and Sno­eren are risk tak­ers, pro­duc­ing clothes – and ways to present them—in ob­tuse ways. No­table fash­ion shows have in­cluded out­fits em­bed­ded with light­ing rigs (“It didn’t work. It was a great idea, but the girls were blinded by the fol­low spots”), mod­els walk­ing in ver­ti­cal beds, and per­haps most mem­o­rably in 1999, lay­er­ing, Rus­sian Doll-style, the model Mag­gie Rizer— a well ex­e­cuted Dadaist state­ment that ce­mented their rep­u­ta­tion as avant-garde provo­ca­teurs. “I think we are just re­ally cu­ri­ous and we like to look for the limit. We like to look for bor­ders. First of all, we have an idea, and the best way to ex­press an idea is in an ex­treme way, a way that is quite rad­i­cal. We al­ways work with the process of de­duc­tion, try­ing to find the most dis­tilled, the most pure way to com­mu­ni­cate what we have in our minds. We want to ex­press what we do in a way that’s beau­ti­ful, and that’s why we some­times use the phrase ‘con­cep­tual glam­our’. There’s the idea— the con­cept— and there’s also a lot of glam­our and beauty, and we don’t think one ex­cludes the other. There’s a need to cre­ate some­thing beau­ti­ful. Beauty com­mu­ni­cates.”

As the ti­tle of their NGV show sug­gests, Horsting and Sno­eren see no irony

in call­ing them­selves fash­ion artists. “Since we aban­doned ready to wear and fo­cused on cou­ture, we started analysing this be­cause we con­sciously present our­selves as fash­ion artists. We’re look­ing for that bound­ary, that fine line. In the show we did for au­tumn/win­ter 2015, a paint­ing be­came a dress, which be­came a paint­ing, is a very lit­eral elab­o­ra­tion of this no­tion of wear­able art,” ex­plains Horsting. The up­com­ing ex­hi­bi­tion fur­ther con­tex­tu­alises and re­in­forces their bridg­ing of art and fash­ion. “We re­ally en­joy work­ing on mu­seum shows. It’s great, be­cause in a way it’s com­pa­ra­ble in timescale to work­ing on a fra­grance. Work­ing on a mu­seum show, there is time to think and re­think. And it’s demo­cratic in a way, be­cause a lot of peo­ple can go and see it, whereas there are only so many who get to see a show with their own eyes. It’s great that they can see the pieces up close, and see the tech­nique and crafts­man­ship” ex­claims Horsting.

Can fash­ion be art? “Not all fash­ion is art, but it’s pos­si­ble.” When I liken the duo’s work to the bold­ness of Jeff Koons and the in­her­ent glam­our and rev­o­lu­tion­ary char­ac­ter­is­tics of Warhol, he laughs. “Oooh, well, those are big names. But Warhol, yes, we feel close to his way of think­ing.” In the Vik­tor&rolf world, op­po­sites at­tract; the de­sign­ers are equally smit­ten by old Dutch mas­ters as they are with modern pop. “But in terms of spe­cific artists, we both love the work of Ed­vard Munch. There’s an in­tro­verted drama to his paint­ings that we find ab­so­lutely fas­ci­nat­ing. He’s a bril­liant pain­ter. What­ever he does is aes­theti- cally pleas­ing. You also see that through­out his ca­reer he kept on search­ing and push­ing him­self. There is noth­ing easy to what he does. I don’t know what else to say about Munch, but his work speaks to me.”

When quizzed about con­cep­tual start­ing points and the process of ideation, Horsting is clear: The method is that ba­si­cally we need to be to­gether, to sit to­gether at a ta­ble. We just need to be to­gether and we need to talk. We need to sit in front of the dragon’s den and wait un­til the dragon comes out. It al­ways starts with words— an idea. Then we’ll sketch a lit­tle bit. We share an of­fice in a beau­ti­ful old canal house, where ev­ery­body works. There’s a big ta­ble in the mid­dle with a cou­ple of chairs and a desktop com­puter.”

While one could imag­ine an or­dered cre­ative process, Horsting at­tests oth­er­wise. “It’s a huge mess, with a big pile of paper in the mid­dle of the ta­ble— sketches and messy stuff. We’ll sit at this ta­ble and dis­cuss shapes we have in mind and show our team sketches. Then they’ll start de­vel­op­ing the first toiles. Some­times it’s pretty clear, and some­times it’s a long search and we have many tri­als. We don’t drape any more. But we used to drape and make all the pat­terns our­selves. But that’s a long time ago.”

Since then, their per­sonal in­ter­ven­tions have ex­panded to in­clude the con­tri­bu­tion of highly skilled ar­ti­sans. “We have great peo­ple who do it much bet­ter than we did,” he ad­mits. “But we still get a kick out of the fact that a lot of the things that are now in mu­se­ums were hand made by us.”

Tech­nique is ob­vi­ously key. I men­tion The Chain­saw Mas­sacre, their Spring 2010 show con­sist­ing of tulle evening dresses, punc­tured with gi­ant port­holes. The pieces, like many of their cre­ations, look tech­ni­cally im­pos­si­ble, but the duo make it pos­si­ble. “The head of our ate­lier some­times says: ‘you know, grav­ity ex­ists’ but we al­ways re­ply: ‘if we can draw it, you can make it.’ A lot is pos­si­ble. Just don’t take no for an an­swer.” Fash­ion Artists will ex­hibit at the NGV, Mel­bourne, from 21 Oc­to­ber 2016 to 26 Fe­bru­ary 2017. The ex­hi­bi­tion has been de­vel­oped in close col­lab­o­ra­tion with Vik­tor&rolf and in­ter­na­tional guest cu­ra­tor Thierry-maxime Lo­riot.

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