Unraveling the Archive: Viktor & Rolf, Fall/Winter 1999 Haute Couture
Today, Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren are avant-garde polymaths who have established their brand as the intersection of art and fashion. In July 1999, the pair was still considered a new addition to the prestigious Parisian haute couture schedule filled with superstar designers such as John Galliano of Christian Dior, Alexander McQueen of Givenchy, and Karl Lagerfeld of Chanel. Such competition contributed to a buoyant boom of creativity in the industry.
Viktor & Rolf's F/W 1999 collection, dubbed “Russian Doll,” was a tour de force. From start to finish, it was clear that the designer duo didn’t want their runway show to engage in traditional couture theatrics. There were no models strutting down in seductive catwalks and no voice-over guiding the audience through each look. Instead, Horsting and Snoeren fully inserted themselves into the presentation, which featured Maggie Rizer as the collection's only model. Rizer was the sole wearer of the 9-look offering, a stunt analogous to that of traditional Russian dolls. “A Russian doll compels us to continue opening her up in the hope that something more will be revealed than the miniature doll at its heart,” explained the couturiers. “Leaving the doll untouched enables us to imagine what is inside.” Is the collection a metaphor for the constant quest for more beauty? Perhaps.
The first outfit, a piece of rag made of hessian sackcloth, doesn’t scream haute couture artistry, but once the duo started dressing Rizer, all the fabulousness of their taste and genius quickly emerged. A short lacy dress was layered on top of the debut dress, then a jacket with shimmering bell-sleeves, then a big embellished dress with a gathered waist. Rizer stood on an automated pedestal, which made a 360-degree rotation for the audience after each new garment was added on. With the addition of the next layer—a voluminous dress with embellishment and flower prints—the look became significantly more majestic. On top of that dress, a massive, sculptural coat with embroidered flowers, strong shoulders and shredded edges is layered on. The last two looks truly defied the limits of proportions—Rizer was completely buried in clothes. Finally, a gigantic tweed cape–a tent, really–adorned with an equally spectacular rose on the right-hand side was the last addition.
More is definitely more with Viktor & Rolf. Maggie Rizer was left rotating as the couturiers added a boa of flowers on the floor around her. She became a piece of artwork. The duo created such a beautiful, inspirational, experimental and fun show all in a quick six minutes—a perfect encapsulation of their design ethos: “Haute couture is for us a laboratory in which we can freely experiment with ideas, without being subjected to commercial constraints,” they once stated—and this haute couture collection was nothing less.