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by Viktor and Rolf
spring/summer 2016
Purchase, Friends of The Costume Institute Gifts, 2016
2016.671a, b
Episode 1 / 2018
First Look

They are known to dethrone serious concepts of high art, serving them up with a wink on the catwalk..."

Since their 1993 debut, Dutch designer duo Viktor & Rolf (Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren) have built a body of conceptual fashion creations by blurring the boundaries between art and clothing design. They are known to dethrone serious concepts of high art, serving them up with a wink on the catwalk, such as in this "Performance of Sculptures" couture collection for spring/summer 2016, which they call a "Surrealist meeting of a white polo shirt with Cubist portraits." The collection gradually evolved from simple polo dresses with applications of Cubist facial features—lips and eyes—into totemic sculptures like this silhouette (look 17) with near-grotesque proportions. Their penchant for totemization and accumulation was famously expressed in their fall/winter 1999 "Russian Doll" collection, in which the duo covered model Maggie Rizer in eight consecutive layers of couture dresses, revealing the meticulous "backstage" work and thereby deconstructing the myths surrounding high fashion.

The white piqué dress in synthetic fabric features several jagged applications of hand-sewn ruffles and large hands, one with a diamond ring, a couture cliché that could be seen as a homage to Chanel's hands. The large "drumkit" headpiece with Cubist facial features rested on the model's head with the help of an ingenious internal headband-like structure: limited eyesight was provided by the dotted freckles formed by cutaways in the fabric lining.

For Viktor & Rolf, art and fashion are driven by a similar blend of aesthetic and commercial impulses. Using humor and deconstruction, they promote a more inclusive, nonhierarchical definition of art, jettisoning the divide between the "enduring" and the "ephemeral." They feminize "high art" by male artists—Braque's collages, Picasso's Cubist faces, Matisse's cutouts—upending perceived notions of high versus low, of the canon versus camp.

Karen Van Godtsenhoven
Associate Curator
The Costume Institute
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