In due time, many of the dresses shown throughout the Haute Couture collections will reappear on red carpets the world over. But you’ve got to hand it to Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren, who considered how dresses might look if they were actually made from, well, red carpet. After conceiving second-skin, tattooed ballerina dresses last season, Viktor & Rolf came up with what they referred to as “a meditation on a contemporary obsession.” They wondered whether it would be possible to coerce such a rigid material into wearable volumes, describing the knotting, wrapping, and tying techniques as “spontaneous gestures.” The duo insisted that there was neither positive nor negative subtext—that the intention was “nonjudgmental.” They admitted that the idea was, quite simply, “a big challenge.”
Where other designers begin with aesthetics, Viktor & Rolf often start with language, and in this way their collections can end up projecting the esoteric cleverness that comes naturally to graduating-year fashion students. This time, however, the painstaking execution—whether shaping the pile into sculpted pleats or cutting and placing the spots with such deliberate irregularity—helped balance concept and craft. Except, that is, when the concept proved too heavy in the physical sense; keeping the material above knee-length proved more compelling than a weighty cascade of carpet down the front of a long, vaguely Renaissance frock.
The undone hair, au naturel makeup, and boyish rug-covered oxfords made clear that this was not a dissertation on Hollywood glamour. Instead, the leopard, zebra, and giraffe patterning—all hand-cut, shaved, and hand-applied to a pliant netting base—suggested primitive glamour (not to mention workmanship; these pieces took upwards of three hundred hours to complete). All those cape shapes, blankets bearing oversize bows, and sacks with well-placed arm slits are not destined for play-it-safe starlets; more likely they will be collected and, one day, exhibited. But as the models moseyed down the tapis rouge runway (supplied by Dutch manufacturer Desso) to be shot by fashion photographers rather than paparazzi, the realms folded in on each other and the medium became the message. All the while, a group of percussion students from Amsterdam provided a rhythmic soundscape from an upper balcony, clapping according to a syncopated composition by Steve Reich. They drew out the applause after the audience hurried off. It felt appropriate, if not self-congratulatory.