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Prior to last night’s show, which ended Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoering’s self-imposed 13-year haute couture hiatus, referring to their design process, the Dutch designers told that their starting point is an intuitive emotion. So even though the show featured twenty all-black looks with fabric made of a silk that had the spongy look of neoprene, the message they were trying to express was a far more abstract notion than a straightforward study of cut and cloth.

Beginning the show with a meditative silence, guests were invited to reflect on the designers’ path. After all, this year, they are celebrating 20 years of artistic collaboration. It was also an opportunity for attendees to “clear their palettes” before the show—and never ones to stage a “regular” catwalk, this collection was characteristically showcased by means of performance art. Sitting in the middle of a dry landscape, on a wide carpet graphically designed to imitate a sea of raked gravel, the duo meditated and then stood and proceeded to create a veritable zen garden.

One by one, models emerged in cascading, deconstructed, jet-black, voluminous shapes. The neck often served as a point of departure for high-collared tumbling cocoon-like cloaks, lightweight and insular. The only embellishments were supersized zippers, or fringe, meant to be “moss”. Look 17 looked like an Haute Abaya, fabric billowing and copious, while look 18, highly conceptual, came across as a waterfall covered with creeping moss. The models walked in flat roped sandals as they approached either Viktor or Rolf to be physically manipulated into a rock formation. Knees were bent and bodies collapsed; a zip opened and an arm extended; fabric was pulled tightly over feet—and slowly but surely, the rock garden took shape. Creating common combinations, reclining figures were placed against a tall, vertical one, representing Buddha flanked by his attendants. Arranging them discreetly, but precisely, the designers followed Buddhist principles. And mindfully aware of their actions, they went about their work.

In Japanese symbolism, such gardens denote journeys and the designers have commenced their second haute couture pilgrimage with a message of meditation. The Sakuteiki, a classic manual to creating a Japanese rock garden, describes exactly how the stones should be set—and that if the rules are not followed, the owner of the garden will suffer misfortune. What was surprising, however, was to see the typically nonconformist duo follow any rules at all. Evidently, this time around, the duo is keen to get it right and plan to enter Couture for the long-term.

But while the visual scene was calming, the music pulsed, crashing against the audience like waves against rocks and it crescendoed with persistence, rising and rising. Suddenly, three-sided black curtains smashed to the floor, and the garden disappeared forever, only to remain imprinted in our subconscious. Welcome back, Viktor&Rolf—we look forward to seeing future haute conceptual collections hatched.

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