The fashion media's attraction to their exaggerated silhouettes and noteworthy runway performances has always played an integral role in the shaping of the Viktor & Rolf brand identity. With no advertising campaigns, no self-standing boutiques, and no mass-produced clothes to sell, their early relationship with the public depended heavily on the generous amounts of press coverage they received each season. (Close collaborations with photography teams Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, as well as Anouschka Blommers and Niels Schumm, also helped further their vision.) The media's acknowledgment of Viktor & Rolf as a leading avantgarde haute couture label was instrumental to the commercial success of their ready-to-wear line. Their first collection sold immediately to sixty stores worldwide during its launch in February 2000.
Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren understand that a fashion designer's public image is nearly as important as the clothes that are created. Oftentimes referred to as "the Gilbert & George of fashion," the two present themselves as mirror images of each other: matching dark-
rimmed glasses, closely trimmed dark hair, and a serious demeanor despite the humor in their shows. They performed a tap-dance finale with tuxedos, top hats, and canes to "Putting on the Ritz" and "Singin' in the Rain" for their spring/summer 2001 collection. Additionally, they used themselves as models for the launch of their fall/winter 2003-2004 men's wear collection, Monsieur, as they synchronized changes into looks depicting clichés of traditional men's wear.
Viktor & Rolf continue to push the boundaries of fashion in ready-to-wear by using the catwalk as a stage for performance art. Models were cast as walking shadows, for example, in their "Black Hole" collection (fall/winter 2001-2002) when they were covered head-to-toe in black silhouettes and black makeup. Two years later (fall/winter 2003-2004) their models appeared as fair-skinned, red-haired clones of the actress Tilda Swinton.
Through their shows Viktor & Rolf try to bring fantasy, beauty, and magic back to fashion as they forge a path for the viewer to enter their dream. "For us," explains Rolf Snoeren, "it's always about escaping reality, so in that sense the clothes are meant to show beauty first. Beauty and hope. Because cynicism, you know, kills everything."
See also Fashion Designer; Fashion Shows. BIBLIOGRAPHY
Alonso, Roman, and Lisa Eisner. "Double Dutch." New York Times (8 December 2002): 109. This in-depth interview reveals the personalities and fantasy worlds of Horsting and Snoeren.
Horsting, Viktor, and Artimo. Viktor & Rolf. Breda, Netherlands: Artimo Foundation, 1999. This artist's book covers Viktor & Rolf's early work, 1993-1999. Lowthorpe, Rebecca. "The Gilbert & George of Fashion." The
Independent on Sunday (30 September 2001): 35-38. Martin, Richard. "A Note: Art & Fashion, Viktor & Rolf." Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body & Culture 3 (1999). Martin analyzes Viktor & Rolf's early works and emphasizes their importance in crossing the boundaries of fashion with art.
Spindler, Amy. Viktor & Rolf Haute Couture Book. Groningen, Netherlands: Groninger Museum, 2001. A retrospective exhibition catalog featuring the haute couture collections at the Groninger Museum.
VINTAGE FASHION The trend for "vintage" clothing as fashion exploded in the 1960s. Prior to this, the trading and wearing of old clothing had different connotations. All levels of trade in old clothing were well supported by the increasing speed of fashion change from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and the growth in consumer availability of these trends. As the commercial constituency for fashion increased, the growth in trade of old clothing was incremental as the quantity of these goods increased. The original ragpickers collected items that others had disposed of and returned them back to the economic cycle. Consequently, the ragpicker was allied with other outsiders, or members of the underclass. Karl Marx was later to define the philosophy of artistic bohemianism by its links to this social underclass. Bohemians, he believed, were vagabonds whose position was characterized by economic necessity or (crucially) romantic interpretation. This ambivalence between necessity and choice is essential to an understanding of vintage clothing.
The link between fashion and old clothing made the clothing a definitive indication of one's social status—the line and fabric of a jacket from a period too recent to be fashionable or classic immediately indicated that the wearer was drawn from the lower classes. It was a stigma that people were painfully aware of. The ethos of "make-do-and-mend" allowed the lower classes to position the wearing of old clothing as thrifty and, during wartime, patriotic. However, it was very specifically old clothing that was passed down through families. It was, most certainly, rarely purchased. Consumers of old clothing were, then, considered to be those seeking to give an impression of higher social status, the destitute, or actors, and consequently were treated, in some ways, as suspiciously as those who sold them the garments.
Prior to the mid-1960s old clothing had not been widely positioned within traditional retailing environments, its traders preferring the market stall, auction, or pawnbrokers as a venue for selling. The retailing of old clothing has been viewed in diametrically opposed lights—as a criminal activity for laundering money, as good business practice, and, from the advent of charity shops, as an altruistic pastime. Most cities in the United Kingdom had large warehouses that distributed secondhand clothes, and despite the falloff in trade in the late twentieth century, many still have significant export markets. As trade in old clothing fell, the practice of wearing old clothing rose and became known as "vintage," moving from the market place to the upper market boutique.
In London, dress has been persistently retailed as vintage since the early 1970s. Shopping guides of the mid-1970s note numerous vintage retailers, some offering in-house tailoring with vintage fabric, predating in practice (although quite possibly not in philosophy) the work of designers such as Martin Margiela, Russell Sage, Alice Temperley and Jessica Ogden. However, it was still not considered a wholly acceptable practice, and the clothing was predominantly worn by consumers affecting a rebellious challenge to the mores and propriety of previous generations.
The duality between thrift and economy on the one hand, and subversive practice on the other, made vintage fertile as a signifier for bohemian morality and practice, notably in the 1950s and 1960s. The hippie lifestyle was positioned as anticonsumerist, which sartorially was com municated through the wearing of old clothes. This interpretation continued throughout the following decades, as seen in the political stance of the Women's Environmental Network in the 1990s, but also in the work of designers such as Helen Storey, Komodo, and to a degree, Vivienne Westwood and the Punk movement.
The twenty-first century trend for vintage clothing has its roots more specifically in bohemianism—in the performance of individuality and artistic (rather than aristocratic) elitism. A number of specialist boutique retailers in London have acquired significant profile and status. A number of these (Virginia, Sheila Cook, Steinberg and Tolkein) are regularly credited and quoted in fashion magazines, and a steady flow of celebrities list them in "my favorite store/best-kept secret" questionnaires in Sunday supplements. Across Europe and North America, vintage retailers are no less conspicuous for their domination of fashion headlines. The owners of Resurrection and Mayle (New York) and Decades and Lily (Los Angeles), are considered important "women of fashion" and costumers to the stars. The vintage revival in the United States is due, in no small part, to the eclectic image that stylist and vintage retailer Patricia Fields created for Sarah Jessica Parker's character Carrie in the HBO comedy Sex and the City.
Retailers such as Selfridges, TopShop, and Jigsaw in London, A.P.C. in France, and Barneys and Henri Bendel in New York have all picked up on the trend, incorporating vintage offers or vintage-inspired collections into their ranges. Wearing vintage has become a distinguishing marker of cultural and economic capital—it's unique, it's expensive, and so on—that privileges the individual. More than money, it is free time that is required to invest in the laborious process of seeking, finding, repairing, and selling old clothing. In the latter half of the twentieth century and beyond, that free time was available predominantly to those who were wealthy or who were engaged in work that was flexible—principally, therefore, creative. Because the vintage garment is unique, it also suggests that the wearer is individual, separate from the increasingly and obviously shallow process of fashion.
Interestingly, many Hollywood celebrities have embraced vintage principally because it is outside fashion— suggestive either of anticonsumerist philosophy or of individual choice. Actresses allied with independent cinema such as Chloë Sevigny appear to have adopted the "trash" aesthetic to distinguish themselves from mainstream fashion. Sevigny's protégé designers Imitation of Christ are proponents of an anticorporate philosophy not dissimilar to Westwood's in the early 1970s. On the other hand, Nicole Kidman, one of the most prominent wearers of vintage in contemporary Hollywood, tends to purchase from retailers who position their stock as antique—timeless and culturally valuable—highlighting her sense of personal, individual style, which is supposedly sincere, authentic, and equally as timeless as the clothing she prefers.
One of the most pointed criticisms of vintage is that it is detrimentally nostalgic, particularly in its influence over contemporary design. Alongside the retailers, a cluster of designers have been steadily drawn toward old clothing, either literally, in the reworking of found fabrics or garments, or indirectly, in their plunder of the annals of dress history to create a modernized antiquity for the postmodern consumer. Designers as diverse as Ralph Lauren, John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, Donna Karan, and Miuccia Prada are all known to have invested heavily in vintage clothing to use as resource material. However, it is not necessarily a nostalgic practice since the selection of pieces is informed by the contemporary. Crucially, it is not necessarily the garment itself, but its positioning in a contemporary debate and context that reinvigorates the memories and meanings the garment contains.
See also Actors and Actresses, Impact on Fashion; Bohemian Dress; Secondhand Clothes, Anthropology of.
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Taste. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1984. Cicolini, Alice. "Vielle Couture: Authentic Display." Master's thesis. London College of Fashion, 2002. Dyer, Richard. Stars. London: BFI Publishing, 1998.
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Silverman, Kaja. "Fragments of a Fashionable Discourse." In Studies in Entertainment: Critical Approaches to Mass Culture. Edited by Tania Modleski. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1986. Tolkein, Tracy. Vintage: The Art of Dressing Up. London: Pavilion, 2000.
VINYL AS FASHION FABRIC Vinyl is a plasticized variation of Polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Although PVC is hard, with the addition of plasticizers it can be made pliable enough, for example, to coat fabrics in any thickness.
In 1926, Waldo L. Semon, a scientist working for BF Goodrich, accidentally discovered this compound while trying to form a synthetic rubber. At first he thought that the rubbery gel he created would work as a bonding agent to adhere rubber to metal. However, through further experimentation he found he had invented a highly versatile plasticized vinyl that, in the early 2000s, has hundreds of uses.
To present his discovery to the company, Semon applied the gel to curtains, creating a waterproof vinyl-coated shower curtain. It stirred a sensation! Vinyl was quickly adapted to umbrella and raincoat fabrics for its waterproof properties. Vinyl was also used to coat wires. Commercialized in 1931, the new technology was highly successful. During World War II, vinyl was turned to wartime use, and so it wasn't until the 1960s that vinyl again became a fashion item.
The 1950s were times for conformity, particularly in clothing. By the 1960s the public was ready to have fun with fashion, and clothes reflected the radical social change of that decade.
In the mid 1960s couture designers André Courréges, Pierre Cardin, and Paco Rabanne, noted for their modern and futuristic looks, seized upon the high-tech look of these fabrics. Vinyl-coated fabrics not only gave a new surface appeal to their designs, but lent a modern structural look to the designers' new vision of architectural shapes rather than fluid draped lines. Modern clean-lined geometric shapes characterized their designs. Garments were cut to suggest simple geometric forms, boxy with hard edges, angular straight lines, or circular in shape.
André Courréges, who claimed to have invented the miniskirt, made vinyl fashionable with his miniskirts, helmets, A-line dresses, and suits. Inspired by astronaut boots, he used vinyl in his "Moon Girl Collection" to create the shiny white boots that accessorized his designs. The "Courréges boot" was mid-calf length with open slots at the top and a tassel or bow in front. Soon the look was being copied everywhere. Popularized by teenagers wearing the boots on discotheque television shows, they were soon called "go-go boots" after the gogo dancers who wore them.
At the same time in England, the "Mod" fashion look first appeared on London's King's Road and Carnaby Street. The op art and pop art movements inspired the trendy English designer Mary Quant. She popularized the miniskirt, high vinyl boots, and shoulder bags. She used vinyl-coated fabrics to create what was called the "wet look" not just in raincoats, but in tight miniskirts and dresses as well.
Through the years vinyl coating was able to take on matte and textured surfaces to look more like leather for a cheaper alternative. Vinyl can also be produced in almost any color or can be crystal clear.
The downside of vinyl for cloth is that it does not "breathe." It also does not readily break down when discarded, lasting for decades. However, it can be recycled and converted to new applications.
After its first trendy appearance, vinyl's popularity in rainwear was only occasional because the vinyl coating rendered the fabric unbreathable. Wearing the coat, or other article of vinyl clothing, can become very uncomfortable, keeping heat and moisture trapped next to the skin. Also, although the fabric is waterproof, the garment isn't. In a heavy downpour water can get in through the seams. In the early twenty-first century, hi-tech fabrics and new construction methods have taken over the waterproof category in clothing, but the use of vinyl in other areas continues to grow.
See also High-Tech Fashion; Rainwear; Umbrellas and Parasols.
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VIONNET, MADELEINE Born in Chilleurs-aux-Bois in 1876, Madeleine Vionnet was apprenticed to a dressmaker while still a child. She began her career in fashion working for makers of lingerie, as well as dress-
makers and couturiers in London and Paris. These early experiences of craft skills and, in particular, the relationship between body and fabric involved in making undergarments, influenced the future direction of her own designs. She learned to respect the intricate skills of craftspeople, who were able to produce delicate effects through, for example, drawn threadwork and fagoting, which created spatial patterns by moving and regrouping the fabric's threads. This fascination with minute detail and the possibilities of fabric manipulation formed the foundation of her approach. Her background in the couture trade was fundamental to her later status, since it distinguished her as a craftsperson who was knowledgeable about the various dressmaking skills and decorative trades that supported designers. She was therefore not only tutored in practical skills but was also aware of the status and treatment of young women who worked in the ateliers.
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