Last season, after Viktor & Rolf showed a collection where the neckline of each look was dramatically hoicked up to the earlobes in a style inspired by the cult 1922 vampire movie Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror, Vogue Runway’s reporter Anders Christian Madsen wondered what might happen when that corset scaffolding inside the looks was removed. This season, the designers Rolf Snoeren and Viktor Horsting proposed an answer: The first half of their show featured the same structured, high collars with looks that appeared to be levitating above the wearer’s shoulders; the second half showed them collapsed, draping the models in swathes of ruffles. “It’s a completely different attitude,” said Snoeren backstage. “First it’s very strict, very rigorous, then the attitude switches to something softer, more relaxed.”
What made this idea so neat was the presence of the designers on the catwalk, visibly manipulating the clothes in front of the audience. In a move reminiscent of their fall 1999 Russian Doll collection, where the model Maggie Rizer rotated on a circular platform as they dressed her in a succession of garments, the Dutch duo appeared halfway through the show, calmly striding onto the runway pushing a garment rack, and proceeded to get creative.
Addressing a model who was clad in a high-neck pinstripe shirt, wide-neck navy blazer, coat, long gray trousers, and platforms, they began to undress her. First, they removed her sunglasses. Next, they disconnected the flocked aluminum structure that had kept her jacket elevated above her ears. Then, they pulled at drawstring cords inside the lining of both her coat and jacket to cause the fabric to bunch up, altering the silhouette. As the model’s platform heels were removed and replaced with pointed flats, with the trouser hems gently pooling around the ankles, one was struck by the somewhat tender notion of the human hands that go into producing couture—that and the transient nature of trends that race along in keeping with fashion’s sometimes ludicrous moods. The second half of the collection featured exactly the same pinstripe suits, tuxedo jackets, and voluminous blouses of the first, but their bravado had deflated into something more laid-back.
There was a comment in here, perhaps, about toxic masculinity. “We liked the idea of men’s clothes that don’t fit, a masculinity that doesn’t fit,” elaborated Snoeren. “And then we change it to make it fit,” added Horsting. At a time when Britain’s prime minister is battling to save his scandal-ridden premiership, ricocheting between disasters and cabinet resignations in a rumpled suit that is cut too tight in some places and hangs awkwardly in others, it felt like a sharp piece of political commentary. And even if your chancellor and health minister haven’t both just resigned, leaving you clinging on to power, the idea of amorphous clothing certainly appeals. If only fresh starts in politics were activated as simply as pulling a drawstring.