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Viktor & Rolf symposium at London’s Barbican Art Gallery

Fashion duo Viktor & Rolf discuss their work with fashion experts at a special symposium held on September 13 in London.

By Katie Dominy / 18-09-2008

Inside the House of Viktor & Rolf

As a glamorous finale to the exhibition The House of Viktor & Rolf at London’s Barbican Art Gallery, The Premsela Foundation collaborated with the Barbican Centre to organise a symposium, exploring the work of the Dutch design duo. Entitled Inside the House of Viktor & Rolf, the audience of true fashionistas, fashion students and academics were well entertained.

The highlight of the afternoon was an interview with the designers live on stage. The duo explained how much they enjoyed creating this exhibition as it allowed them to be much more in control of the environment (admitting to the control freak aspect of their personalities!), their work could be seen by far more people than at a catwalk event and the experience lasted far longer than the 10 minutes of a fashion show. Their favourite part of the exhibition was, of course, the giant doll’s house that fills the gallery’s atrium.

The designers also explained how they see their work as a ‘total experience’, with the catwalk show as a performance and the clothes as actors in a play. How do they see their contribution to fashion? ‘To inspire people with our work and create pieces that touch them emotionally.’

Prior to this a team of three fashion experts treated the audience to an exploration of different facets of the designers’ work.

José Teunissen, professor of fashion theory at ArtEZ Institute of the Arts, Arnhem and an expert on Dutch fashion, discussed the conflicting attitudes to fashion in the Netherlands from a historical perspective, leading on to looking at what elements of Dutch culture could be seen in Viktor & Rolf’s work. Teunissen spoke about the more straightforward references, such as the Silver collection from autumn/winter 2006/07, which was inspired by the Dutch custom of silver-plating a baby’s first shoes, as well as the more abstract references from Dutch 20th century modernism – a clarity and simplicity that comes out in the designers’ ability to work out one idea thoroughly, never just adding embellishment on a whim.

Dr Ulrich Lehmann, professor of cultural history at UCCA, Rochester, explored the idea as to whether Viktor & Rolf’s work should be considered as fashion or art and showed how the designers’ highlight certain Couture elements in their work that allow us to identify them as high-end craft and appreciate the skill involved in their creation.

The third speaker, Judith Clark, an independent fashion curator and co-director of the MA in fashion curation at the London College of Fashion, took us through a short history of fashion exhibitions and explained how the staging of The House of Viktor & Rolf creates visual theatre through the unexpected scales, the repeating motifs and, most importantly, the painstaking attention to detail that is the hallmark of the Viktor & Rolf brand.

Photography: Anuschka Blommers/Niels Schumm

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