viktor&rolf couture art
Horsting and Snoeren get ready to reveal the painting.

Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren are the artists of the fashion world. While their peers have tried—and some have failed—to keep up with the pace of fashion weeks, the Dutch duo refused to be part of the maelstrom and in February 2015, announced they would only do haute couture and fragrances. This seemingly indulgent decision was not a light one by any means.

Backed by fashion conglomerate, Only The Brave, which owns Marni, Diesel and Maison Margiela, Horsting and Snoeren had the space to create—and create they did with a sculptural and surreal haute couture spring/summer 2015 fashion show. The collection was inspired by the quintessential summer outfit of slippers and a straw hat, and looked more like a Van Gogh painting.

However, when the models took to the stage for the designers’ haute couture fall/winter 2015 show in Paris in July, it was clear that the spring show was just the first act. For fall, their pieces didn’t just look like paintings, they were paintings.

The runway models were enveloped in gowns that made them look as if they had been pushed through an artist’s canvas. At first, the gowns were simple frames tied over an artist’s smock but then as the show developed, the canvases became more intricate. And being couture, this wearable art comprised of gold foil fabric frames, embroidered paint splashes and woven jacquard fabric images. However, the biggest surprise from this performance art-filled show was yet to come… When the models were ready to leave the runway, the designers unhooked their skirts or dresses and hung them on the wall in a Viktor&Rolf gallery, creating, at one point, a triptych.

When our Editor-in-Chief, Kenneth Goh, was at the Couture Show in Paris, he knew that he wanted to shoot one of these gowns for the BAZAAR Art cover. “It was just spectacular… So, so beautiful and incredibly moving—this is what couture is all about,” said Goh.

viktor&rolf couture art
Models hit the runway at Viktor&Rolf’s haute couture fall/winter 2015 show.

Speaking with Horsting at their studio in Amsterdam, a 17th-century canal building that lies on the famed Golden Bend, he said that living in Amsterdam creates a “pleasant distance” from the hectic pace of the fashion industry and allows them to re-energise each season. Warm, approachable and with a throaty laugh that punctuates his sentences, Horsting has been friends with Snoeren since they were 18. For more than two decades they have shared endless ideas, incredible success, a very messy desk and just one laptop.

The award-winning designer is proud of the BAZAAR Art cover: “We wanted to [dedicate] a collection and a show with our specific approach to fashion, which we feel is a bit of a crossover between fashion and art. To be on this cover is especially significant,” says Horsting.

The twosome has always been interested in art. “Before Rolf found fashion he wanted to be an illustrator,” says Horsting. “And illustrations are still an important part of our working process.”

The art-inspired collection came from introspection. “What is couture to us?” says Horsting. “Where we are with our career, it made a lot of sense to us. Literally—make wearable art. Paintings become dresses, and dresses become paintings.”

viktor&rolf couture art
The catwalk gallery.

This collection proved to be a steep learning curve. It involved numerous prototypes and even a visit to the local flea market to source paintings, which they then draped over a dummy to see how they would fall. “To make that work as a garment was an interesting experience,” Horsting laughs. “The frames had hinges and worked like boning or crinolines.”

They also started thinking about the shapes that would be reminiscent of a painting. And from the moment they started putting the collection together, they knew that they wanted to have a performance art runway that involves hanging a triptych on the wall. “We knew we wanted to make one dress out of three paintings—and then we started thinking how the hell are we going to do that?” Horsting says.

The maison’s chef d’atelier occasionally reminds them when they start a new collection that there is something called “gravity.” And when I mention this to Horsting he laughs. “Each collection poses a new technical challenge, which even surprises us. At a certain point, you think, it’s clothes you know, and we work on silhouettes a lot, [but] it can be quite a technical challenge.”

The design duo joke that the most surprising thing they’ve heard someone say about their collection is that many people want to buy their pieces.

“I am particularly proud of the fact all the elements clicked together. I’m rather proud it worked as it’s a rather far flung idea,” Horsting explains. “It looks easy [laughs]. Okay, maybe easy isn’t the right word… spontaneous!”

As to whether this show was triumphant? “When I see something beautiful I get really energetic. If people feel like this, then it is a success,” he says.

viktor&rolf couture art

By Claire Turrell