An entire catwalk of models dressed as Tilda Swinton; a dress covered in bells that you can hear before you can see; one model wearing an entire collection… such is life in the fabulous House of Viktor and Rolf installation at the Barbican. Including samples of each collection’s couture, as well as pieces of their early work and live footage of their innovative shows, the epicentre of the exhibition is a giant doll’s house, filled with figures dressed in miniature, intricately-made versions of costumes from their collections. For those unplagued by the blight of pediophobia*, the sparkling blend of fashion and art by the Dutch designers is a must-see.
You may have seen the bespectacled fashion duo peering out at you from advertisements all over the city, their grave expressions mirrored by the glassy-eyed dolls surrounding them. Within the world of couture, Victor and Rolf are indispensable, fusing together the politics of fashion and an ice-cool irony. The installation takes you on a chronological journey through their career, questioning fashion’s fleeting and superficial nature as well as their own place within it. In l’Apparence du Vide, Viktor and Rolf hang golden garments (meant to suggest disposable gift wrapping) mirrored by a wearable organza ‘shadow’ on the floor, highlighting fashion’s overemphasis on the cult of celebrity at the expense of an appreciation of cloth and form.
Their later collections still insist on raising questions, refusing to take refuge in their aesthetic and commercial success. In their ‘No’ collection, models stroll down the catwalk with the negative statement twisted into their clothing or painted shockingly over their face and eyes, criticizing the endless turnaround of collections and underlying commercialism that fuels the world of fashion. In this way, the pair criticize the phenomenon of couture while being honest about their desire to play a part in it. As well as imbuing the conceptual into their work, the pair also use the medium to portray their own moods. The ‘Flowerbomb’ show features models dressed entirely in black, only to reveal a positive mirror image in pink and gold on the other side of a revolving stage, celebrating optimism and positivity.
If conceptual fashion is famous for its inaccessibility, this beautifully arranged installation will do well at drawing in the uninitiated. Helpfully explained by contextual notes on each piece, the installation avoids the trap of under-curated work which leaves you stroking your chin and wondering what it all means. Go and see Viktor and Rolf late at the Barbican on a Thursday, enjoy a raspberry Bellini, and plan your next bow-covered, silver-plated, all-singing and dancing outfit.
By Chloe George
*To you and me, that’s fear of the little madams. Yes indeed - whether rag, Russian or Barbie. Even Ballerina Barbie.Image courtesy of the Barbican.