Barbican stages The House of Viktor & Rolf

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I have just checked out The House of Viktor & Rolf exhibition at the Barbican, which opens tomorrow and runs til September 21. The fashion-meets-art Dutch duo were present, and will no doubt be presiding over a fabulous affair at tonight’s private view, which I couldn’t blag my way into – waah! These guys always make the headlines for their show-stopping looks, and what this showcase really brought home was how much went into each of these looks, but also how much of it was, ultimately, commercially viable and exciting, wearable fashion.
The two floor exhibition (I nearly missed the second floor!) delves into the past 15 years of the designers’ work, from 1996’s Launch, a scaled-down workshop, catwalk show and photoshoot and shop, isnpired by the atelier dolls of the post WW2 period (you may have seen at the V&A’s Age of Couture?) and fake concept perfume, via the 2004 pink and black, be-ribboned and bows collection which promoted Flowerbomb, their first fragrance, through to the most recent catwalk extravaganzas. For any fashion fans, this is absolutely unmissable – I loved it.
A focal point of the exhibition is a six metre high dolls’ house which reminded me of the royal dolls’ houses in the RijksMuseum in Amsterdam (and thinking about it that is probably were they were inspired, given they are Dutch!) – each room was inhabited by porcelain dolls in the Victorian style, with glass eyes and real hair styled by a hairdresser, each wearing a miniature version of one of the Viktor & Rolf designs. Some were arranged in tableaux, such as the Flowerbomb collection on ladders a la the famous Dior models portrait of 1957, and The Fashion Show models, with their personal catwalk rigging. Have you read the Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aitken? Let’s just say that this house brought part of that story to life – it’s more or less the ultimate dolls house for the spoilt little rich girl.
Other than the dolls’ house, a mixture of installation and life-sized mannequins with doll heads were used to display the actual garments, usually accompanied by a film of the associated catwalk shows; this included Maggie Rizer in the Russian Doll collection, still on arotating stand, like a music box ballerina, being dressed, layer after layer, from a hessian and gilt slip through to a padded cape which obliterated her form. I was transfixed by a film of a collection inspired by Yves Klein blue, in which increasing amounts of the blue screen blue were incorporated into outfits, and images – snowscapes, city ringroads, coral reefs – projected onto the models’ bodies.
I could wax lyrical about the exhibition all day, but I won’t, instead I urge you to sample it for yourself – this is the first UK exhibition from Viktor & Rolf and is a perfect opportunity to ensure that you have mastered all the basics of their approach and are ready for whatever they throw at us next.

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