They wear the same clothes; they finish each other’s sentences, and strut their stuff down the catwalk for their own menswear collections. Their brand features both names side by side; they often play at being each other’s twin with humour, some might find this strange, others pure genius. But they also form a true duo, with an amazing imagination and creativity like no other, which turn the classical rules of luxurious fashion and beauty upside down on its head.
The Dutch duo Viktor Horsting, born 27 May 1969, and Rolf Snoeren who was born 19 December, 1969, both hail from the Netherlands where they were raised. They met whilst both attending the renowned Arnhem Academy of Art and Design; but they did not begin working together until after their graduation. It was in 1992 that they packed up their bags and moved to Paris. (The House of Viktor & Rolf, Caroline Evans and Susannah Frankel, Merrel 2008) They began interning for brands such as Maison Martin Margiela, and designed their own clothes in spare time on the evenings, then presenting them in the art circuit, soon making a name for themselves winning the Festival d’Hyeres prize in 1993. Their brand makes the link between couture fashion and art seamlessly, putting deep concepts and showmanship in their work. Viktor & Rolf’s first clothing collection was shown at a competition called Salon European des Jeunes Stylistes in 1993. The collection consisted of ten looks, which comprised of pre-existing pieces from garments blended together to form a sort of clothing collage, in turn creating new clothing. It was partly made from old shirts and suits found in flea markets, stitched back together and distorted. Very reminiscent of their former employer Martin Margiela, who was part of the Antwerp group, who were very much linked to the emergence of deconstruction fashion which was a big trend of that particular era, the 1990’s.
Their close link to the art scene, presenting four collections in experimental art exhibitions, led them to show their first Haute Couture collection Spring/Summer 1998. One example of their unusual but spectacular approach to fashion was their entirely topsy-turvy show in fall of 1999, with upside-down dresses and an ear-splitting backwards soundtrack, a provocative all-black show including the models’ faces, and a presentation featuring, on a revolving turntable, a single model who was layered in look after look like a Russian doll.
In this same year, 1999, they tell Vogue they intend to step into the world of ready to wear as well as haute couture, Snoeren saying, “We have the same dream as Calvin Klein, only we want to realize it on our own terms,”. Despite Viktor & Rolf’s obvious success, couture can’t pay their bills. Vogue noted that less than half of their fanciful creations have been sold to paying customers. Horsting and Snoeren tell The New York Times that they had been surviving “on a mix of government grants, museum sales, and goodwill.” So it is not surprising they had to turn their attentions away from their couture dreams. It was in May of 2000 that their first ready to wear collection was shown, with the likes of Andre Leon Talley singing their praises, which was a huge success. The collection was panoply of red, white, and blue stars and stripes presented via posters done in a propaganda style featuring Sudanese model Alek Wek that are plastered on the showroom walls. The pair was way ahead of their time sending spectators home with a CD-ROM of their sportswear debut; it wouldn’t be for another decade that the flash drive look books that we know, will eventually become a common appearance in the fashion industry. Later in October 2003, A ten-year Viktor & Rolf retrospective opens at Paris’s Musée de la Mode et du Textile, giving them a little taster of their former more artistic based roots. Horsting and Snoeren co-curate the displays, selecting black walls and compiling an exhibit catalogue filled with previous press coverage.
Though early on they were known for wowing the fashion press but not selling a stitch, Horsting and Snoeren have since tapped into their commercial potential. In July 2005, after three years of talks with French beauty giant L’Oréal, V&R drops its first real fragrance, Flowerbomb, an oriental bouquet of Sambac jasmine, Cattleya orchid, and green tea packaged in a glass grenade shaped bottle. That same year, the house’s highly anticipated H&M capsule collection drew frenzied crowds for their collaboration with fast-fashion retailer H&M, their opening-day sales were projected at a minimum of $1 million, which isn’t too shabby to say they were only scraping by not so many years before. The campaign advertisements featured Brazilian fembot model Raquel Zimmermann, pictured as a bride in a surrealist wedding to double grooms.
In 2008 the pair sold a controlling stake of its business to Diesel owner Renzo Rosso. “We have high ambitions,” Snoeren commented to The New York Times, which also reported their plans to open five more boutiques within the next few years, hence why they sold a percentage of the company to raise funds for further expansion.