With a 25-year tenure as the fashion world’s quirkiest provocateurs, the design duo behind Viktor & Rolf made a surprise appearance at the Canadian Arts and Fashion Awards (CAFA) event in Toronto this May.
At the gala, Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren presented friend and collaborator Thierry-Maxime Loriot, whose latest coup is the current Thierry Mugler: Couturissime exhibition at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, with CAFA’s 2019 Vanguard Award.
Before taking to the stage, Horsting and Snoeren spoke about their most recent, social-media-inspired couture show and how changes in the fashion medium are affecting its message. In the collection, meme-able quotes, such as “Sorry I’m late, I didn’t want to come,” were created from delicate tufts of taffeta affixed to gargantuan ball gowns.
That juxtaposition of social commentary and traditional craft (or, as Horsting describes it, “to have something so trite be treated in such a delicate and precious way”) reflects their views on fashion as entertainment – and how a designer navigates a world that wants to know all the secrets behind his creative process.
Why do you think someone like Thierry, and others in a curatorial role, are important to the fashion industry today?
Horsting: We’ve always really liked to show our work not just on the catwalk, but in galleries and museums. We think it’s important to develop that part of our work, and for fashion in general, because it’s so democratic. Thierry contributes to that. Obviously, a catwalk show is for a select audience and a museum show is much more accessible to a broad range of people.
Snoeren: And fashion is not just about what’s being made today. What I like about Thierry is that he really values what has been done, putting it into more of a perspective.
There’s that preservation aspect, too, right?
Horsting: Preservation and education. Because when I think about his choice of, for instance, Mugler – who has done such tremendous, amazing work – when I look at social media, collective memory seems to become shorter and shorter.
Do you think social media has changed curatorial practice, or the way that people are engaging with art, whether it’s a painting or with fashion? Now, when I go to shows, there are obviously pieces made that are meant to be captured on Instagram – for example, pieces with lots of exaggerated movement.
Snoeren: Our last show was kind of made for Instagram.
That’s why I want to ask. What’s your relationship with social media and why did you decide to go that direction with the most recent collection?
Snoeren: We’re just fascinated by all the pros and cons.
Do you think it’s helped the fashion industry in a meaningful way?
Horsting: I find it very difficult. We’re from a time when there was a mystery about fashion, or a limited group of people who were interested, who were ready to go to get the information they wanted. Now, whether it’s fashion or art – everything – it becomes entertainment. So, a fashion show is entertainment when you look at it on social media, which it isn’t. But then again, it is. … I’m not saying one is good and the other is bad.
Snoeren: We’re more looking at, how can we put meaning into something that is so fleeting? How can we give some weight to something that is so meaningless?
That definitely came through in the production of the garments, the craftsmanship of them. How do you navigate being designers today, where social media is so prevalent but your technical prowess is still so strong?
Horsting: Well, social media is a tool. In the end, making clothes is a process. Selling clothes is … something else.
Snoeren: When we make something, it has to look amazingly beautiful – and craftsmanship is so important to us. Whether we communicate by Instagram or it’s in a magazine, that doesn’t really matter.
You’ve been in the business for quite a long time, you’ve maintained your aesthetic and still quite a fair amount of influence in the industry. What are your impressions of it now? There seems to be a lot of drama all the time with designers coming and going.
Horsting: Hasn’t that always been?
True, but you hear about it so much more often. Maybe because of the shift in media and things like the Business of Fashion constantly delivering fashion news?
Horsting: But isn’t news in general just more about drama these days?
Snoeren: I think that’s why we’re more and more concerned about what makes us happy. We’re preoccupied with what we do, who we are. We’re not really so much news oriented or thinking about what other people do. It’s about how we can be authentic; how do we do what we want? We don’t read any reviews about our work.
Have you ever read them?
When did you decide to stop?
Horsting: Hmm, I don’t know when exactly, it happened gradually.
Was it a conscious decision?
Horsting: Oh yes.
Snoeren: It wasn’t so much about reading bad reviews – it was just reading the reviews, the good, the bad, whatever. I don’t want another voice influencing what we do.