Interview with Viktor & Rolf
Hi Viktor & Rolf. When I was asked if I wanted to do this interview with you, the editor Fredrik Robertsson made it quite clear to me that I could not expect to get paid for the job as BOY is a pro-bono project. I replied, as is my wont, that the only services I provide free of charge are of a sexual nature! And here we are now, doing the interview. I won’t go into the exchange that took place between me and Mr Robertsson, but this whole business of (not) working for free got me thinking about when you designed a stroller for the Bugaboo brand in 2012. It came as something of a shock to the world of fashion, to put it mildly. You just don’t associate Viktor & Rolf with baby accessories. What was it that made you say yes to this stroller job? Were you so broke that it was an offer you just couldn’t refuse? Or do you harbour some kind of secret love for, well, strollers?
– Hello Karina. This is going to be fun, but what an odd question! We designed the stroller simply because we fancied doing something other than what we were used to doing. Something that forced us out of our comfort zone and the design process that we are familiar with. Working with a partner specialising in something totally different from what you do can be extremely stimulating. To be honest, money is rarely a motivation for us. And, unfortunately, we are never offered deals of the ‘this, we cannot say no to’ kind, which you perhaps thought was the case with the stroller. Let us be clear, we simply do not earn as much as we should.
Over the years, I’ve seen many of your fashion shows in Paris – thank you for inviting me! And I’ve always liked the way your work is often so close to expressions and approaches from the art world. You have simply always been very ‘arty’ non-stop. In 2003, you had a show at Le Musée de la Mode et du Textile in Paris. It is still one of the best fashion shows I’ve ever seen. Among a number of brilliant presentations in the show was a sealed bottle of perfume. It was not intended to ever be opened, or rather, it was quite impossible to open. A highly conceptual work and approach: the unattainable covetable. Incredibly elegant. Why did you choose to work in fashion instead of being an artist duo such as Gilbert & George? You could have just as easily presented your fashion as an art product.
– Thank you for saying such nice things about our show. We’re really glad to hear you liked it. We chose to work in fashion, but with an artist’s approach. And the fact that we really do have an artist’s approach is something that we have only really begun to realise now! From the outset, we believed that it would be possible to use fashion as a kind of tool through which we could express our ideas, and we still do.
You have said that in presenting a fashion show at a museum you are offering something far more democratic than a fashion show that only around a hundred specially invited guests can watch. But today, now that the shows are broadcast live, this has all changed. What do you think about the democratisation of fashion? Is it happening or not? Is it perhaps just a big joke… that fashion as an expression and language based on a genuine idea are something that touch more people?
– Fashion as an idea is certainly more accessible now, thanks to the internet. But seriously, the people who make money from this high rate and availability are not the ones responsible for the creation of new ideas. There is, of course, a huge imbalance on many levels in the fashion industry, with all its different concepts such as ‘originality’, ‘authenticity’ and ‘quality’ as the biggest pitfalls.
‘Viktor and Rolf on strike’ is a motto – or perhaps I should say catchphrase – that you used on posters in 1996. That year, the posters replaced both the fashion show and collection. When you presented the 2008 autumn collection several years later, it was with another motto: NO. Looking back at my old notes from that No show, I had written: ‘Is it the environment that Viktor & Rolf are thinking about? Sound slogans saying ‘no leather’ and ‘no nylon’. Models in combat boots with geisha heels designed for war or kinky games. […]. High-rise men’s trousers in grey flannel worn together with a bustier. It looks as if the garments are joined together with a stapler, explaining the invitation: the V&R logo in the form of a black seal stapled to the invitation card. The stapler instead of the sewing machine is obviously the message. No time for sewing. Faster fashion (production) please. Perhaps the slogan is a genuine protest from Viktor & Rolf’s studio? But then came the explanation in the form of a grey flannel coat with a large, built-in, box-shaped brooch, also in grey flannel, in the shape of the word DREAM. Viktor & Rolf want to work with fashion as a dream. If Viktor & Rolf can’t do it, at the level they are at, then where can fashion as an idea and dream be created and realised? Since ON STRIKE and NO, you’ve practised these slogans yourselves. You checked out of haute couture from 1998 to 2000 in order to fully focus on ready-to-wear. And right after the 2015 autumn/winter collection, you checked out of ready-to-wear to focus entirely on haute couture, which was reborn in 2013. When do you next plan to go on strike? And was it a difficult decision to go on strike?
–When it came to going on strike – to completely stopping ready-to-wear, it really wasn’t an easy decision, but we felt that we were putting far too much time and energy into being something we are not.
The subject – or should we say theme – ‘Fashion as art’ has been penetrated from all different angles since fashion began. And your haute couture collection in Paris in July 2015, ‘wearable art’, had a very literal approach to the theme. You placed models in frames and canvases, made them ready to be hung on the wall. Has turning your backs on ready-to-wear given you greater artistic freedom today?
– Absolutely. The very idea of the change was based on our desire to leave the whole concept of ready-to-wear and its process in favour of the freedom that exists in haute couture. And with our latest haute couture show ‘wearable art’, we think we have made it very clear that it is actually possible to work with fashion as an idea, and something concept based. We consider ourselves fashion artists, with fashion as our medium.
Something else entirely: as a working duo, what do you normally agree on, and what do you disagree about?
– Well there are two of us, so naturally there are times when we don’t agree. But our partnership has never been about one trying to convince the other about anything. At work, we have always complemented one another, and simply taken advantage of and welcomed the other’s differences – liked how one plus one becomes three. If we disagree, then we have come to realise that the idea will take a bit more work – that we are simply not there yet. It can only be right once we are both in complete agreement.
Now onto something perhaps a little more private. I read somewhere that you each have a dog, but that the dogs do not get on. Something that has made it impossible for you to meet with both dogs. I find this interesting. I have an apricot miniature poodle, and sometimes also an English Staffordshire terrier. They dislike each other, but the poodle dominates the Staff. So you could say that they get on that way. I’m wondering if it’s possible that you let your dogs behave as they do so you don’t have to meet as often? Or could it be that you are actually really annoyed with each other, and let the dogs be the ‘messenger’?
– No, that’s not quite how it is. It is true that the dogs don’t like each other, but they have been forced to spend time with each other in the office every day, because we go there every day. In the end, they came to accept each other’s presence, so now they put up with each other, day in, day out.
I’m glad to hear that they put up with each other. Let’s stop here, thank you very much!
– Thank you Karina, it was fun answering your spontaneous, frank questions.
Interviewed by Karina Ericsson Wärn