Princes of the avant-garde fashion scene, Viktor & Rolf have been turning heads on the runway, in magazines and in stores, and on the streets of major metropolises for the past 20 years. Known for their theatrical presentations and extremely elegant, sculptural designs, the dynamic duo approaches every opportunity, every idea as a challenge that needs to be conquered in an original way. FLATT contributor Paul Laster recently sat down with the talented designers in Dallas, while they were touring the States, to discuss their history, their thoughts on collaborating, and what’s next up their sleeves.
PAUL LASTER: How did you first meet?
ROLF SNOEREN: We were in the same class in art school. We studied together and that’s how we met. We didn’t work together in school, but we finished in 1992 and our collaboration started in 1993. We always liked each other’s work and we were already close friends. After school we decided to give it a go.
VIKTOR HORSTING: We participated in the biggest European design contest, just as a test, and we won the first three prizes, so we thought it was meant to be.
PAUL LASTER: What was the biggest challenge of putting together your first collection?
VIKTOR HORSTING: Space, because we were living together with another member of our class. There were three of us in one room in Paris and we literally had no space to make anything.
PAUL LASTER: What about costs of materials?
ROLF SNOEREN: That was challenging, but challenges make you more creative.
PAUL LASTER: What made your vision unique when you began?
VIKTOR HORSTING: I think the more conceptual approach. Because we didn’t have much space we said let’s use every centimeter of the space that we have. All of the patterns have exactly the same measurement as our apartment. It was a way of thinking that was probably different.
PAUL LASTER: And how has your vision evolved?
ROLF SNOEREN: I think we are still very true to that first conceptual approach. We still start with an idea and we see our work as an exercise to express that idea.
PAUL LASTER: Speaking of which, you title your collections like works of art or a piece for the stage or a film, such as Stars and Stripes, Ballroom, Glamour Factory, etc. What comes first, the title or the collection?
ROLF SNOEREN: The idea for the show, which is put into language, comes first. Once it’s put into language, we start executing it.
VIKTOR HORSTING: We start visualizing the words. That’s basically how we work.
PAUL LASTER: Once you come up with the concept, how does the title help define your designs?
VIKTOR HORSTING: It provides a focus. It’s like a lens or a center. Once we know what we want to express we know that we will always have to go back to it. Often the most successful shows are the ones that are the most true to the original idea.
ROLF SNOEREN: We go quite far into it, in the sense that we like something to be logical, so that people can understand it. And we’re quite extreme with things; for instance, one season everything had to be black so everything was black. We were black; the clothes were black; the models were black—everything was black.
PAUL LASTER: What collection was it?
ROLF SNOEREN: The Black Hole collection for Fall 2001. That’s one example of our conceptual rigor…
PAUL LASTER: When I interviewed the Campana Brothers years ago they told me that one of them is more conceptual with the ideas and that the other one likes to have his hands on the production, in a material sense. How do you divide your tasks?
VIKTOR HORSTING: In our case, it’s more like we are one brain or one designer. There’s no real division in who does what. It’s a constant game of Ping-Pong—always back and forth.
PAUL LASTER: How important is collaboration with others to what you do? Obviously, you are collaborating with one another, but what about your partners and team?
ROLF SNOEREN: Creating fashion collections and shows requires teamwork. There’s a lot of work involved, thus teamwork is a necessity. Having said that, teamwork needs strong guidance. We hope that we provide the guidance, creatively.
VIKTOR HORSTING: As well, we like to be loyal to people, so we’ve been working with the same people for a long time. For example, our photographers are Inez and Vinoodh. Once it works, why change a winning team.
PAUL LASTER: What is your collaborative relationship with Inez & Vinoodh? I’m a fan of their work and have written about it multiple times.
ROLF SNOEREN: They do our perfume ads or whenever we have something visual to do we ask them, especially in the beginning of our career. They were quite involved, even with styling and helped us with shows.
PAUL LASTER: You’ve also collaborated with Maggie Rizer, Tilda Swinton, Tori Amos, and Rufus Wainwright. Did you seek them out to work with or did they discover you?
ROLF SNOEREN: No, we actively approached these people to work together with because we admire them; we like what they do.
PAUL LASTER: Thinking about them, can I ask you if you have a muse?
ROLF SNOEREN: All of these people are of great inspiration to us. They are all very authentic. The word muse implies a certain emptiness, which we don’t really like. With these people, we have really collaborated on shows—with the music or something that is a very vital part of the show.
VIKTOR HORSTING: But we don’t design with someone in mind.
PAUL LASTER: Is there a Viktor & Rolf woman?
VIKTOR HORSTING: No, it’s more of a Viktor & Rolf character relating to the idea of the show. The models can transform themselves into whatever they need to be.
PAUL LASTER: How does your approach to menswear differ from your concept of women’s wear?
ROLF SNOEREN: With menswear we think pretty much about ourselves. We happily embrace the fact that menswear has certain limitations. For menswear we like to work within a certain framework.
VIKTOR HORSTING: And it’s really for us—for a man who has an exciting lifestyle.
PAUL LASTER: Your shows seem to be a big part of your whole production. Is there a certain balance in the creation of the line and then how you decide to conceive the show?
ROLF SNOEREN: Usually, or very often, we start with the idea of the show, which becomes the central focus to create everything around. Recently we have started to minimize the theatrical effects of the shows, or at least we used to do more theatrical shows. We now feel a bigger need to show reality, more realness.
PAUL LASTER: Do you deal with each design challenge with the same sense of detail, whether it’s ready to wear for H&M or luggage for Samsonite or whether it’s a travel kit for KLM?
VIKTOR HORSTING: Yes, it always starts with the idea and then the quality is in the details. The details make something succeed or fail.
PAUL LASTER: Besides in magazines, I think I first saw your work at the Creative Time exhibition Exposing Meaning in Fashion Through Presentation at the Brooklyn Bridge Anchorage in 1999.
ROLF SNOEREN: Did you see us in the cage?
PAUL LASTER: Yes, I remember Hussein Chalayan, Martin Margiela, and Vivienne Westwood were in the show, too; and that you did the performance in a cage.
ROLF SNOEREN: Very few people saw it.
PAUL LASTER: You’ve been exhibited a lot at museums. Are you consciously making art and fashion simultaneously?
ROLF SNOEREN: For us, it’s always fashion. From the very beginning, whatever we would make would be, in our sensibility, part of the fashion universe. So the answer to your question is yes; but there’s not really a division for us.
PAUL LASTER: What is your perception of it when it gets shown in museums?
VIKTOR HORSTING: It’s a great compliment. It’s very democratic. Our fashions shows are only visible to the happy few. In a museum, everyone can come and look. It’s a good thing.
ROLF SNOEREN: And there’s the possibility to emphasize different aspects of the work. You can invite people to look at it in a different way.
VIKTOR HORSTING: But fashion in a museum usually is not so easy. We always try to do something site-specific.
ROLF SNOEREN: And, for sure, it’s not that when a dress is extreme or sculptural it’s art or wants to be art. That’s not the point.
PAUL LASTER: I also wrote about The House of Viktor & Rolf at the Barbican in London, although I wrote about it when you showed it at Studio Job’s space in Antwerp. How would you define that project?
VIKTOR HORSTING: That was really a site-specific exhibition. They ask us to do a retrospective for a contemporary art space. We went there and they said no one has really used this atrium, so we thought it would be cool to do something for that space.
We thought of an enormous dollhouse, which became a way for us to show a retrospective of our work as one new work rather than just showing the things we had already done. We could show it in a way that was challenging and new; but it became a huge, time-consuming, two-year project.
PAUL LASTER: You had to remake all of your designs in miniature?
VIKTOR HORSTING: Yes, everything was so meticulously made, with so much handiwork; but then we loved it so much that we keep on making the dolls—the family is growing!
PAUL LASTER: You’ve done fashion, you’ve made fragrances, you’ve crafted objects, and you’ve created fantastic theatric shows. What’s next for you guys?
ROLF SNOEREN: More, you know fashion deadlines always demand more. Our interest is to go deeper into everything that we know, so that every time it’s a discovery, even though it’s the same—and, hopefully, it will get a bit better every time.
VIKTOR HORSTING: We are always looking toward the future and always working toward what could be better, but lately we been thinking a lot about the word gratitude—just being happy with what you have.
ROLF SNOEREN: Yeah, enjoying what we are doing now, in the present. It’s not easy, but it’s a worthwhile challenge.