Katie O’Brien ponders the antics of Viktor and Rolf haute couture show - high art or social media goldmine?
Couture can seem confusing to those of us who are not millionaires. But I do truly think couture should be viewed as fine art. While I will not be spending six figures on a garment I don’t know how to put on, it doesn’t mean I can't admire the creativity and craftsmanship of the designer. Viktor and Rolf's Spring / Summer 2023 couture show was a great example of how couture can look beautiful and “normal” yet still be displayed in a creative, thought-provoking and high art way. Or are we all just so bored that we have decided to be weird for weird's sake? Has shock factor taken over art due to the overconsumption of media?
Viktor and Rolf showcased some opulent and elegant ball gowns which were very feminine and to be quite honest a little bit underwhelming for couture, but their methods of display were where it began to become interesting. The models came down the runway not truly wearing the garments but instead having them placed either on them or beside them. Some had them completely dejected from their bodies, held to their side, and some had them placed over their heads, obscuring their vision. Displaying your work like this showcases the models as art themselves - it rejects the idea of models overwhelming the pieces they are displaying, and instead brings back the ideas of the model either going hand in hand with the work or else being eclipsed and letting the work speak for itself.
Unlike most viral and shock worthy moments online, this show was not met with controversy but instead bewilderment. It felt like a classical call back to purely visual absurdness which is only absurd because it is taking something traditional and quite literally turning it on its head.
When a piece of work is displayed in this manner, and with the work being regularly beautiful ball gowns, it can make you wonder if it would have been considered high fashion couture if it had been modelled traditionally. It truly gave an absurd sense of modern realism and could be seen as being heavily influenced by the modern age of technology and how pictures and images can never truly be trusted or seen as real and straight forward. The show commenced with the traditional method of modelling these traditional gowns and eventually changed into the abstract absurd. Thus leading to the shock factor online when images from the show were released. Unlike most viral and shock worthy moments online this show was not met with controversy but instead bewilderment. It felt like a classical call back to purely visual absurdness, which is only absurd because it is taking something traditional and quite literally turning it on its head. It was refreshing to see something created absurdly that did not seem to have a largely greater meaning since sometimes it can be nice to view things and just appreciate them.
Something as simply absurd as this does lend itself to the idea of truly just doing anything to stay fresh and relevant. Was something like this done purely for the online shock factor and the recognisability of their images when shared around online? It does lend itself to the question; is art created for arts sake or is it created for a higher creative meaning? I like to think of this show as being a comment on the online world we live in, and how things can be easily changed and distorted. But is that me just trying to find meaning and comment on something that probably should just be enjoyed without overthinking how or why it is the way that it is?
When the world seems so devoid of stability, we can tend to latch on to what we find or anything that evokes a sense of feeling within us and feel that we have to tie it to some larger intellectual social meaning, so we can truly enjoy it, rather than indulging in the luxury of light hearted entertainment.
When we live in such socially, politically and economically turbulent times we think art must constantly use its platform to raise awareness of whatever is happening in the world at the moment. Should we go back to just enjoying things for the sake of enjoyment without having to dissect them and gather a fabricated meaning from them? Can we just enjoy these ball gowns and their strange display because it's gorgeous, humorous and still different? Or have we given up this luxury in our new world of meaning? When the world seems so devoid of stability, we can tend to latch on to what we find or anything that evokes a sense of feeling within us and feel that we have to tie it to some larger intellectual social meaning so we can truly enjoy it, rather than indulging in the luxury of light hearted entertainment. When so much has happened it feels like we have to choose entertainment over awareness and education but it can feel hard or almost guilt-inducing to choose.
Viktor and Rolf have taken something so historically beautiful and dejected it from their models, and you can interpret it as having a deeper meaning or being there for entertainment and enjoyment. I also like to think Viktor and Rolf purely did this for the shock and enjoyment factors, but if meaning was tied in it wouldn’t lessen the enjoyment and creativity I felt watching this show.
I hope fashion continues to take occasional fun approaches to their work whilst also still using their houses to raise awareness for social, economic and political issues. Awareness is always something vital that needs to be raised but I can't help but enjoy the dopamine of just looking at visually pleasing garments.
But choosing to just view things that invoke only feelings of enjoyment can seem insensitive in itself; the world of art and fashion has to be enjoyed both for its meaning, sentiment and visuals. But classically it has been thought that tying interpretation to art can ruin it. To me it only ever seems to greatly improve it, you can view something as mundane and honest as a ball gown and everybody could interpret it in ways you may not. Art will forever be political and it rightly should, but should we discredit pieces going forward if they truly have no meaning at all?