A Conversation With Viktor & Rolf

Viktor & Rolf - P 2013
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Viktor & Rolf - P 2013

In L.A. for an appearance at South Coast Plaza, the iconic Dutch design duo sits down with THR to talk red carpet design, Venice restaurants and why an afternoon drink is a very good thing.

Sure, Dutch designers Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren are considered “avant garde." But they aren’t just any standard pair of modern-day clothiers whose idea of “concept” is an intentionally shocking item that, if gifted correctly, gets picked up on the blogs.

The Amsterdam-based duo helped define true contemporary conceptual fashion when they launched their label, Viktor & Rolf, in 1993. They've since provided clothing-as-art in the form of massive tulle ball gowns that nearly buried wearers in a tsunami of razor sharp, geometric fabric, high-collared, gathered architectural coats that look fit for a modern day Disney villain and some of the most innovative draped and gathered white button downs the world has ever seen. 

And on Tuesday night, the iconic duo will appear at Nordstrom at South Coast Plaza to sign bottles of their 13 year-old fragrance, Flowerbomb and its men’s counterpart, Spicebomb.

Their androgyny-fueled goods are constantly favored by the cool celebrities that other cool people wish they were cool enough to dress like — think Chloe Sevigny, Tilda Swinton, Grace Jones and, most recently, Brit Marling, who wore a dramatic black and white half-pleated silk gown to the premiere of The Company You Keep earlier in the month. In 2011, a pregnant Natalie Portman sported the duo’s soft blush-hued, draped strapless column gown to the Golden Globes, where she took home a best actress statue and topped many best-dressed lists.

In 2003 -- the same year they launched menswear -- Viktor & Rolf appeared as Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum in Grace Coddington’s iconic Annie Leibovitz-shot Alice and Wonderland Vogue editorial. In 2006, they were one of the first labels to participate in one of H&M’s now de facto designer collaborations. The next year, their work was part of a MOCA exhibition on fashion and architecture.

And this week, the pair took a brief respite from the 17th century former mayoral residence that constitutes their Amsterdam design headquarters to talk with THR at Chateau Marmont about playing it safe on the red carpet, where to eat on Abbot Kinney and the beauty of catching a wave your first time out at sea.

The Hollywood Reporter: You’re here for an event at South Coast Plaza -- have you ever been to Orange County before?

Rolf: Never. But we’ve heard it’s … different. 

THR : That it is. L.A. is an interesting place. There are probably many things here that feel otherworldly.

Viktor: I think L.A. has the same kind of casualness as Amsterdam.

Rolf: It’s really a jeans-wearing country and city. Very high-end sportswear, but we love to be very casual, very dressed down. Understatement is an art, in a way.

THR: Oh, yes. But understatement can be hard to pull off, especially in L.A., where a groom can wear sneakers to his black tie wedding and it’s “cute.” Have you seen any on-the-street fashion that’s offended you since you got here?

Viktor: Not so many things offend us. Everybody should be free to do whatever he pleases.

Rolf: If it is offensive, then it’s probably also very funny.  

THR : You might see something offensive at the mall. Just kidding.

Rolf: I certainly hope we do!


Actress Brit Marling in a Viktor & Rolf spring 2013 silk gown at the New York premiere of The Company You Keep on April 1.


THR: So what else are you doing in town, besides visiting Orange County?

Rolf: We spent the weekend in Santa Monica at Shutters. We went surfing. First time.

THR: Did you get up?!

Viktor: Yeah, yeah! It was difficult, but we caught some waves.

Rolf: We also did some shopping, and had great food -- we went to Shima (432 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice) , Axe (1009 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice), Ado (796 Main St., Venice) and Capo (810 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica). We also did some bicycling and just hung out.

THR: Sounds heavenly -- and impressive. Bet that if you didn’t have that gorgeous townhouse studio in Amsterdam to get back to, you’d never want to leave. Must be an incredible place to work.

Viktor: Like a fantasy.

Rolf: We have, like, 25 people working for us now. Our team is divided into womenswear, menswear and accessories. And we have a small atelier where we do our special pieces, made to measure and made to order. Of course everything we make is produced in Italy, so we travel to Italy a lot. And we go to Paris quite a bit because L'Oreal develops all our perfumes. But Amsterdam is, like, the center where we come back to create, which is nice because it’s isolated and away from any scene. We don’t feel the need to be part of any scene, when we want to get out we go to Paris or New York.

THR: Does that mean you don’t get to L.A. very often?

Rolf: Very rarely, actually. We did a collaboration with H&M a long time ago [2006], and it was launched here in L.A. We were one of the first, actually. First was Lagerfeld, then Stella McCartney. And then we did it. 

THR: Collaborations have become quite the “scene” at the moment. Would you do another one?

Viktor: Maybe. It’s gotten so widespread now that it would have to be really something special, something new.


  A dramatic geometric gown from the duo's spring/summer 2010 ready-to-wear show in Paris. 


THR: Speaking of something new, your spring 2013 draped blush-colored long leather skirt would be a much welcomed new addition to this reporter's closet.

Rolf: (laughing) The show this summer, the silhouette -- everything was long with an accent on the waist and a short upper body. We wanted to translate elements of traditional Hollywood glamour and wardrobe into something that was very day wear, wearable. So certain cliché elements, if you will like tulle -- we turned that into coats and jackets, and very fluid drapes in jerseys and leather T-shirts. The long skirt in leather. It’s a mix of, on the one hand, having something that’s very glamorous, but then making it into day wear.

THR: Hollywood glamor seems to be returning to the red carpet a bit, but it also looks like things are starting to blend.

Viktor: I think that’s a very good analysis, that it’s starting to blend. It’s such an important part of culture these days, the red carpet.

Rolf: It seems like a difficult moment to take a risk when you’re under such close scrutiny. When Natalie Portman asked us to dress her for the Golden Globes [in 2011], it was quite a daring choice for her. I can imagine that there are girls who like to be different, but at the same time show that they’re stylish and that they have taste but don’t overdo it. It’s not so easy. I can imagine that for an event like the Oscars, which is the biggest event there is, that you have to play it safe a little bit, just to be sure. Also I think they want it to be about them and not their dress.


Natalie Portman in her custom Viktor & Rolf frock at the 2011 Golden Globes, where she happened to be pregnant. 


THR: Natalie looked so beautiful in that dress. Whose style catches your eye now?

Viktor: There’s so many great actresses that we really like.

Rolf: Jessica Chastain. She was at our show recently. Very nice.

Viktor: And beautiful.

Rolf: Rooney Mara.

Viktor: Rachel Weisz.

Rolf: I love Laura Linney.

Viktor: We were just talking about Juliette Lewis. We love her so much, it would be nice to dress her. 

THR: She's so cool, and she would look great in your stuff. And you just made a short film on your new website with Liz Goldwyn, who has gorgeous style.

Rolf: Oh, yes. We’re going to the Murakami exhibit (Blum & Poe Gallery, 2727 S La Cienega Blvd., Los Angelesopening with Liz. She’s a friend, she’s very original.

THR: Well, I’m sure you’re ready to relax and enjoy the rest of your afternoon.

Rolf: It’s time for drinks. 

THR : As they say in America, it’s 5 o’clock somewhere. 


Meet Viktor & Rolf in person at Nordstrom South Coast Plaza on Tuesday, April 9 from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., 3333 Bristol St., Costa Mesa. nordstrom.com