In 2009, my friends Lauren and Ashlee and I visited Utrecht.
It wasn’t like it was the main part of our trip. We were doing the whole ‘2 month Europe trip’ that was pretty popular with university students at the time.
When we planned it, London was first on the ‘to go’ list. Then Paris and Rome and Florence and Milan. And Berlin went on there too, but only because Ashlee had studied the war and communism in high school history.
Holland was on the list, but it was all about Lauren- who was born there- and about visiting her family. Thanks to their hospitality, we made it to Amsterdam and Den Haag and to a tiny island to the north that used to be inhabited by grey monks: Schiermonikoog.
And one day, with her aunt in tow, we visited the university city of Utrecht.
According to google, there are many things to do in Utrecht. But I mostly remember the House of Miffy, and a museum that was displaying a collection of work by Viktor and Rolf.
Brands, we were taught, were a company’s manipulative way of making you pay lots of money for them to advertise their product on your body. A complete con.
It won’t surprise you to know that, when I was 11, my favourite clothing was a well-worn pair of cullot shorts emblazoned with brightly coloured fish. At one point, my friend Becky intervened, gifting her old, much more fashionable, short-shorts.
In any case, it apparently takes more than a pair of hand-me-down shorts to make you rethink the doctrines of your youth, and until this very fine winter day, I hadn’t thought much about the putative value of high fashion, and its potential to be more than just dresses.
But I can honestly say that the creations I saw in the museum that day amazed me.
I remember video of a Viktor and Rolf collection where models walking the runway had images of cities projected onto certain panels of their clothing, greenscreen style.
I remember viewing Russian Doll, a show in which a single model was dressed in progressively larger costumes by the designers themselves.
I remember images from the launch of ‘Flowerbomb’, where monochromatically dressed models walked the runway, stood and sat in a recognised cluster on the dias and then… with a spin of the stage….. models in identical, yet pink and peach hued clothes were revealed.
And my favourite of all- I remember Bells. Clothing enriched with hundreds to thousands of tiny bells, and a fashionshow undertaken on a foggy runway, so that the work could be first heard, and then viewed.
These weren’t just clothes.
These were definitely art.
So, back to the present.
Because one of the highlights of the three day event was an actual fashion show. An actual, Viktor and Rolf fashion show!
And did I say beautiful?
After the show, I loitered and roamed around for a bit, waiting for the discussion event, also featuring V&R (or at least featuring Viktor- Rolf was apparently at Burning Man).
Viktor was asked to describe their style, which was agreed to sit somewhere in between art and fashion, and used the words ‘graphic baroque’, ‘sculptural’, ‘cirque de soleil’ and ‘hunger games’.
He talked about the inspiration for past collections, and admitted that, in hindsight, a runway where the models carried their own lighting and walked in high-heeled clogs may have been a bit over the top.
But generally, the message was: ‘If it can be drawn, it can be made’.
I liked this, as a comment on creativity and creative desire. And I enjoyed that Viktor kept likening their workshop to a laboratory, and I that when asked what the intended impact of his work was was, and how people and other brands should respond to his work he stated:
‘The impact is conceptual’
‘Oh, I have no opinions about what other brands should do’.
Finally, I liked his discussion of placing the pieces in museums, not only so that they might be viewed for mor than 40 seconds, but also as a more democratic way of displaying the art.
Overall, it was a kind of a fascinating experience.
To be honest, the rest of the B&B event didn’t interest me overly, and I was dead tired after a 6am flight back to Berlin.
Still, I wasn’t about to leave without a quick look at the Vivienne Westwood collection.
Probably best summarised by these three words.
(well actually, ruffles. But ruffles doesn’t start with ‘P’. Also- I LOVE RUFFLES)
That’s all folks.
Except well…. if ever you get the chance to see a V&R collection.. GO see it!
And, Happy Creating!