Strapless wedding dress and bridal bouquet, silver-plated;
‘Silver’ Autumn/Winter collection 2006/07.
‘For Viktor and Rolf, Couture is an artistic medium, a commodity, and a laboratory of ideas.’ (P6; Merrell) Renowned for collections that straddle the boundaries between ‘Art’ and ‘Design’ they critique the fashion industry while working within it, challenging preconceptions of what clothing can be, using materials in suprising and innovative ways and presenting their work through performance and site specific installation.
Essentially nostalgic, the dress references a period in the 1940’s /50’s when fashion and femininity was being totally redefined following the launch of Christian Dior’s ‘New Look’.
The piece was presented in a number of ways; as a full size garment on a mannequin, in miniature on ‘Caroline,’ a doll within a doll’s house, and through footage of the catwalk show.
To categorise this piece as a garment at all is questionable! Clearly it can be worn, but the movement of the wearer is restricted, the process of electroplating subverts the function of the garment transforming it into an object. Inspired by the Dutch custom of preserving a baby’s first shoe for posterity by electroplating it in silver, the dress is an exploration of ideas around the preservation of a memory or event through transformation of a perishable artefact into a resistant, durable momento. It has been described as ‘a metaphor for a desire to give permanence to fashion and still its fleeting nature.’ (P178; Merrell 2008) but also has other connotations.
The wedding dress with it’s associations; a rite of passage into adult life, the fulfilment of romantic aspiration and social norms, is loaded with significance. Other garments within the collection have individual components that are plated with silver; a cuff, a bow, the hem of a skirt, but the wedding dress is totally covered in precious metal! It is therefore possible to interpret this as a commentary on the value given to marriage culturally and/or the extravagance and consumerism that now dominate the marriage industry.
Presented as installation in the Greek Revival ‘pillar hall’ (Belsay Hall, Northumberland 2007) the dress becomes classical sculpture; elevated goddess like on a plinth, it alludes to antiquity and the representation of idealised beauty. It is both ‘an ode fashion’ (P178 Merrell 2008) and an indication of Viktor and Rolf’s aspirations.
When viewed closely at the Barbican, the intricate edges of its lace skirt imply the delicate qualities of the fabrics used. The preservation of construction detail and form indicate the level of craftsmanship required in realising this piece, a technical triumph! However, metal surfaces strongly lit from above in a darkened space made the dress look vulgar, like a massive silver charm that will inevitably tarnish as time passes. A critique of the ephemeral nature fashion industry or a comment on the state of matrimony? One thing is clear, heralded as the climax to the 2006/07 Autumn/Winter collection the cultural importance of the wedding dress is maintained and reinforced, both as the ultimate aspirational garment and a pinnacle of the creative process.
The House of Viktor & Rolf: Merrell; 2008.
Inside the House of Viktor & Rolf – Symposium; Viktor & Rolf in conversation with Penny Martin (Barbican Centre, 13 Sept 2008) http://www.showstudio.com/contributor1363 25/10/2009.