A Couture Retrospective In Shenzhen

There will soon be a Viktor & Rolf exhibition in the “Silicon Valley of China”. Not in Shanghai. Not in Hong Kong. And not, unsurprisingly, in Singapore

That there should be a Viktor & Rolf exhibition is not astonishing. But that it will debut in Asia with a couture-only show is rather unexpected, and in Shenzhen (深圳)—that’s stunning. The southern city, the third most populous in China, is, of course, no longer where day-trippers from Hong Kong (as well as the tourists in the Fragrant Harbour) go for cheap knock-offs of their favourite designer labels or luxury watches. Shenzhen, many residents and folks from Hong Kong and Macau will tell you, is a far cry from those sleazy days. It is now a modern metropolis, as sleek and bustling as neighbouring Hong Kong. Still it isn’t immediate that anyone would associate the city, home to Huawei Technologies, Tencent, and even Hey Tea, with high fashion, yet haute couture would not be out of place there. It would seem our little island is not Shenzhen enough to lure a Viktor & Rolf exhibition to our shores.

Dutch design duo, Viktor Horsting and Rolf Schören, discontinued their ready-to-wear line in 2015, the second European label with an haute couture atelier to do so, after Jean Paul Gaultier about a year earlier. The couture collections of Viktor & Rolf—the label is now owned by Italy’s OTB group—have not diminished in their creative strength and social influence. Although not always practical (and we love them for that!), their pieces are steeped in ideas and themes, and humour not ardently appreciated by those who prefer the relatable output of Dior or Chanel. With design concepts gleaned from van Gogh’s paintings to royal regalia to Russian dolls, the creations do often border on the fantastical and sculptural, so much so that they’d lure the attention of those with a curatorial mission for museums.

Viktor & Rolf: Metafashion is organised by Shenzhen’s Design Society (设计互联), a “platform” and a promoter of design, focused on the Chinese public. The curator of the exhibition, Pookie Lee, told the media that “Victor & Rolf holds a unique place in the history of fashion. Their work has always been a way of making clever commentary on fashion through the creation of new fashions, a dominant visual arts style and identity. The form expands the public’s perception of fashion.” Metafashion, the title, is borrowed from a 1994 Artforum review of the duo’s work by Oliver Zahm, who wrote: “The fashion of Viktor & Rolf, or better metafashion, is the equivalent of a conceptual exercise in reconstruction.”

Reading the news of this approaching Viktor & Rolf 80-looks strong exhibition, we have to admit that we are envious of the people of Shenzhen. The last fashion exhibition here of the work of European masters that we can remember was 2010’s Valentino Retrospective: Past/Present/Future, at Resort World Sentosa. So rare are shows of such calibre organised here that we often wonder if we are indeed living up to the reputation that exists among the people of southern China, especially Hong Kong: “唔係好有趣 (not interesting)”. This island is, in other words, and as it’s often said, boring.

Victor & Rolf: Metafashion, from 29 April—8 October 2022, is held at the Sea World Culture and Arts Centre, Shenzhen. Photos: Shenzhen Design Society

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