Viktor and Rolf
by Adam Reger
Today I read a fascinating piece in the Wall Street Journal about Viktor and Rolf, a fashion design duo who are widely considered to be among the weirdest in the business. (Sadly, the article itself is paywalled, but you can get a flavor for it by watching a video interview with the journalist here.)
The gist is that they take huge risks with their runway shows, risks that have earned them fans and harsh critics. Some examples include having big cartoony letters popping out of models’ clothes; dresses with holes that make it look like an enormous mouse ate through the fabric; and, most notoriously, having models carry their own lighting rigs down the runway.
I’m disappointed that I can’t link to the article, because it is subtly hilarious in the two designers’ responding to questions about this or that fashion show with, essentially, “Yeah, people hated that. Maybe we went too far.” It reminded me of a certain kind of short story, that verges on a humor piece, with the descriptions of the failed or ill-conceived fashion designs growing more complex and outlandish. It also reminds me quite a bit of Steven Millhauser’s story “A Change of Fashion,” (this too is hidden behind a subscribers-only paywall, but read a bit more about it here or here) which basically describes dresses becoming ornate and involved to the point that women can’t move in them and they are these giant structures within which women hang out, invisible to the outside world. This was actually the first Millhauser story I read and I found it completely astonishing because it doesn’t really observe the usual rules of rising action, climax, and denouement—or at least it doesn’t obviously follow them—but seems to describe a process growing more and more involved, stopping at an absurd point with Millhauser then “escaping” from the story (as an old professor put it) via a few beautiful, evocative phrases at the conclusion.
Anyway, it is always interesting to see life evoking art, if not imitating it, and I always love reading journalism and nonfiction that could in some way pass for fiction.
Update: I tracked down a print copy of the paper and can present a few choice excerpts that will support what I say above.
Q: What was the point, for your fall 2007 collection, of making models carry their own individual lighting and sound systems while walking in huge wooden clogs?
Rolf Snoeren: That show in particular was one where afterward we thought well, maybe we took it a little bit too far.
Viktor Horsting: We overstepped a boundary. We wanted that every girl wuld be her own performance–her own universe, as it were–
RS: Of course, all of that was lost in the collective embarrassment.
. . .
[Question about the show where models wore giant letters and words popping out of their clothes]
VH: That show wasn’t really well received either. . . .
. . .
Q: Then there was the time you piled your whole collection on Kristen McMenamy, then undressed her on the catwalk, placing each item one by one on other models.
VH: That I would never do again because I think we were very lucky that everything went well because it could have gone horribly wrong. . . .
You might be interested to know that within the next year my book UNDERSTANDING STEVEN MILLHAUSER will be published by U. of South Carolina P. It will be the first book on his work, aimed at what Virginia Woolf called the “common reader, ” not academics. Earl Ingersoll
That’s fantastic, Earl! He truly deserves a serious critical assessment, particularly one that can open his work up to more readers and perhaps put it in a broader literary context. Congratulations on the book.