TEXT BY PETER LYLE
PORTRAIT BY PHILLIP RICHES
Here at O:Man Towers, we wanted to mark the latest evidence of Viktor & Rolf's progress towards world domination in style. The Dutch design duo's brand new London outpost a "corner", which Viktor translates as a "small shop within a shop", in Harvey Nichols dedicated to their menswear line Monsieur - may not be a flashy, purpose-built flagship, but it is an example of the way the two 41-year-olds, originally known for their presentational brilliance, their high-concept couture and their smartly spectacular shows, have become a serious, unit-shifting, glob- ally-expanding retail force.
Our plan? We asked whether we could photograph and interview Viktor and then Rolf alone, in their customary environments, in the spirit of the lone-man-at-work logic of the section you're now reading. We were delighted when they agreed to make it happen in late February, just days before they were to show their autumn/winter womenswear, and we were intrigued when Rolf, whose second name is Snoeren, told us just before the shoot that he was "excited" about the plan they had hatched in conjunction with the photographer. If they were willing to go solo, we were more than happy to allow these celebrated artists to indulge their creative imaginations.
They did just that, as you can see from this picture and the one over the page, although we're pretty sure we're not clever enough to understand either completely. We assume it's part- nod to Ancient Greek sculpture and its evocation of the ideal male body, part radical counterstrike to fashion's notorious willingness to expose female flesh, and part an allusion to the way traditional tailoring is based on building out from the male body. Believe us, that's a convention that Rolf and Viktor take very seriously indeed.
"Ever since we started out," says Viktor Horsting, "we have happily respected the strengths of menswear - the relative focus on fabric, shape, detail. We try for a modern mix between casual and formal." Indeed, admirers of the incredible silhouettes of their womenswear, or the shows and installations with which V & R wowed the art world before being embraced by the fashion industry, have sometimes grumbled that their menswear is a little too sensible.
"We just noticed that we know what we want to wear," Horsting continues. "Like what we did for the next season, starting with the idea of the suit. We like the idea of working on masculine, iconic concepts and then experimenting within that. So for next winter, the basic question we started from was, 'What is a suit?'"
One wonders if the fact that they can wear the Monsieur line (they do; indeed, they were their own models when unveiling their debut men's collection in 2003) means there's ever a danger of it becoming overly practical and safe. "We do think about this," Viktor says, "because you always want to look good, and there are certain conventions in menswear, like tailored shoulders, that work. But yes, we have to keep in mind the image, not just the clothes."
But that doesn't mean there aren't new ideas - wearing your spectacles on your torso, for example. Asked to pick a totemic piece from the spring collection, Horsting recommends their "very nice sweatshirt with glasses. Both of us have always been wearing these glasses, and I suppose we're using them, in a little way, as an alternative logo - something more informal, to go with jeans." Or perhaps even your birthday suit.