PRINT December 1995

Olivier Zahm


VIKTOR AND ROLF’s spring-summer collection ’96—a line of formal wear made entirely of golden fabric—was a tour de force of complex cut and formal inventiveness. Brilliantly orchestrating shape, line, and volume in endless geometrical variations, Viktor and Rolf privilege the garment itself—its formal properties—above all else, and it is this emphasis that lends their designs a quality of purity. This cleanness, however, is largely a matter of surface appearance; riddled with intentional errors and contradictions, and above all informed by a sense of humor, their fashion, or better “metafashion,” amounts to a conceptual exercise in “reconstruction.” As such, it is a stunning commentary on the ostentatious ambitions of fashion, involving an impassioned quest for novelty even as it acknowledges the radical impossibility of this undertaking.


There’s no end to the runaway S/M machismo, overreaching special effects, and cyberpunk clichés of WALTER VAN BEIRENDONCK, a designer and teacher at the Royal Academy of Antwerp who first became prominent in the ’80s. The success of his WILD AND LETHAL TRASH collection this summer is a telling example of how a fashion esthetic, in overzealously attempting to reflect a zeitgeist, can ironically seem behind the times. Here is the mise-en-scène from the press release accompanying the show of the W&LT spring-summer collection ’96, ostensibly a celebration of the “future” of fashion, at the Lido in Paris. Image: “messengers in the year 2013 riding atomic bicycles in a frantic race through the multiracial metropolis.” Accessories: “professional motocross boots, digital jewelry, detachable visors . . . ” Colors: “galactic white, Eden green, luminous blue, atoll blue, lime.” Products: “shields against urban guerrilla warfare, bomber jackets in inflatable plastic, restyled military pants. . . . ” At least Van Beirendonck deserves credit for honestly referring to his hackneyed creations as “products.”

Olivier Zahm is a frequent contributor to Artforum and an editor of Purple Prose.

Translated from the French by Jeanine Herman.