Monday, July 7, 2008

The House of Viktor and Rolf at the Barbican Art Gallery

Viktor and Rolf are a Dutch design duo that create technically exquisite, artistically breathtaking fashion. I attended the retrospective of their work at the Barbican Art Gallery in London (June 18 - September 21, 2008).

The exhibition presents looks from the past fifteen seasons on custom-made life-size porcelain dolls with the features painted and the hair styled to resemble the model that initially wore that garment. The other-worldly beauty of these dolls is surreal and somewhat unsettling.

My favourite garments were from Flowerbomb 2005 where bows and ribbons decorated the outfits like an exquisite partly unwrapped gift.

Flowerbomb Collection Spring/Summer 2005
Photo by Ingrid Mida 2008
I also loved the dove-white duchess satin wedding dress of Her Royal Highness Princess Mabel von Orange-Nassua from the White collection of 2002.
Viktor & Rolf White collection 2002
Photo by Ingrid Mida 2008

Viktor & Rolf White Collection 2002
Photo by Ingrid Mida
The highlight of the show is a spectacular 6 metre high doll's house containing 54 custom-made dolls, wearing a perfect miniature version of a Victor and Rolf garment. Sadly I was not able to photograph this. I walked around the doll's house several times trying to absorb and remember all the details.

One of the most meaningful parts of the exhibition for me was seeing the evolution of Viktor and Rolf's artistic vision and success. They are true artists as much as they are fashion designers. A dress is more than a dress; it has to express a vision and conform to the theme for the season. A key part of their development seemed to be the 1996 collection which presented their collection in miniature. The designers said that "we created a series of miniature installations visualizing our strongest ambitions: a doll on a catwalk, a doll in a photo studio, a miniature boutique and so forth. The dolls were an abstraction of people and the scenes they enacted showed a life we desired but only dared to dream of."

House of Viktor and Rolf June 18-September 21, 2008
Barbican Art Gallery
Silk Street, London, England EC2Y 8DS

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Court Dress and Hoop Petticoats at the Victoria and Albert Museum

One could spend days at the Victoria and Albert Museum. On a recent visit there, I went upstairs to see the British Collection and was astonished that there is a treasure trove of costumes included amongst the exhibits of furniture and artifacts.

This dress, called a mantua, was in fashion around 1740-45 and was the grandest style of court fashion. It was so wide that a woman would have to turn sideways to go through a door. The huge skirt permits a lavish display of exquisitely embroidered flowers.

In this hands-on exhibit, I tried on a hoop petticoat. As you can see from the messy arrangement of the skirt, a dresser or lady in waiting was a necessity. I had a good chuckle but found it bulky and cumbersome and can hardly imagine having to walk around or sit in such an awkward garment.

Victoria and Albert Museum
Cromwell Road, South Knightsbridge
London, SW7 2RL
+44 0 20 7942 2000

Friday, July 4, 2008

Corsets at the Victoria and Albert Musuem

I am obsessed with corsets as an object d'art and have studied books on their construction. One of the best displays of corsets is in the permanent collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England. (Don't miss the second floor galleries which also include corsets, stays and bodices in amongst the other museum pieces).

This particular example called a stay moulded the wearer's torso into an inverted cone, which was the fashionable shape of the 1780s. A tiny waist was not the aim of this undergarment. Rather stays helped achieve smoothness of profile and firmness of contour. At this time in history, stays were plain without decoration.

By the late 19th century, manufacturers attempted to produce more comfortable corset designs. This ventilated corset, which was designed for sports and summer wear, had spaces in between the whalebone and cotton tapes allowing air to circulate and perspiration to evaporate.

Victoria and Albert Museum
Cromwell Road, South Kensington
London, UK SW7 2R7
+44 020 7942 2000