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Inside the Barbican Conservatory

Inside the House of Viktor and Rolf

Jessica Rolland, an exhibition assistant at the Barbican Art Gallery takes us through the day that Viktor & Rolf took over the Barbican.

What better way to kick off London Fashion Week than with an exclusive look Inside the House of Viktor & Rolf. This Saturday 280 fashion-lovers invaded the Barbican's cinema for the ultimate behind-the-scenes treatment as the designers themselves Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren took over the Barbican for the day.

We started things off with a fabulous VIP brunch hosted by the Dutch Embassy, most fabulous I must say was the setting. Being in the Barbican Conservatory is like how it must be to go inside The Orchid on Lost. It's surreal and overloads the senses at every turn. We munched on sandwiches, yoghurt pots, fruit kebabs and fresh juices and there was a real buzzzzzz in the air as we all awaited the arrival of Viktor & Rolf.

Whilst the designers treated their special symposium panel guests to what can only be imagined as a lush brunch at Malmaison (wouldn't you love to be a crumb on that table….?), back at the ranch we counted down to their 1 pm E.T.A., running around to make sure everything was in place. Flowers? Check. Microphones? Walkie-talkies? Check. V.i.p.-seating? Check. One last look in the dressing room to make sure we had enough fruit and chocolates for the boys and then a mad dash to meet them…….but where were they? Never fashionably late….but they could have come in through any of the 119 entrances to the Barbican.

Of course Viktor & Rolf wanted to have one last moment with their exhibition, which closes on 21 September. In one final dash towards the Cinema I bumped into them in the back stairwell, so happy to see them again for the first time since the exhibition’s opening in June. I don’t know why I expected them to be in penguin-tuxedos, but they were keepin’ it real in their best luxe casual – corduroys, cottons and tweeds of their own designs. Matching but not matching, breaking hearts all around with those eyes and smiles.

As the boys settled in their dressing room, the Cinema was gearing up for the doors to be opened. The Symposium moderator, Penny Martin, along with the three speakers, José Teunissen, Ulrich Lehmann and Judith Clark, were getting ready on the Cinema stage, and SHOWstudio were on hand to video-record the event.  When I got the go-ahead I made my way with Viktor & Rolf through the back-mazes of the Barbican to keep us on schedule for the 1.45 sound check.

Everything was going fine and all the mics were working, but then there was a massive bit of feedback – hands over ears! – and the sound just died, with about ten minutes to showtime. There was a bit of anxiety with all of the audience waiting in the foyers. Also anxious for the event to start were several pieces from the Viktor & Rolf vaults flown over especially for the occasion. Check out the silk flower dipped in real silver adorning the beautiful silky rose pleating and leg-of-mutton sleeves. Those of you who know Viktor & Rolf's work will remember this dress from a 2006 performance at The Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, entitled ‘Woman from Tokyo and Paris', which lives on today only in video format.
But hey, we’re all used to waiting as long as it takes for fashion shows to start, so a thirty-minutes wait is peanuts right? In all seriousness the audience was very patient and all participants were very calm. So we had a bit of a bumpy start but after several more sound checks and changes, everybody was happy to sit down and enjoy the show, complete with a few videos of a few rare glimpses of Viktor & Rolf in their natural habitat in Amsterdam. 

Once the interval was finished it was time for the moment we’d all been waiting for: to really go Inside the House of Viktor & Rolf to see what the boys were all about as they joined Penny Martin on stage. Viktor & Rolf charmed Penny and the audience and there was a lot of oohing, aahing and laughing. When asked what they love and hate most about fashion, one of their biggest loves for fashion is naturally also its biggest drawback: the fashion world is one big power play. It’s like being in high school. If you’re not in with the cool kids, look out. Once you are in with the in crowd though, you’re in, and it's fabulous from then on.

As evidenced by their most recent A/W 08 collection ‘No’, Viktor & Rolf also hate the pace of the fashion world, but love that fashion is one of the few ‘global’ languages and they have always been seduced by its glamour. I think we are all on the edge of our seats seeing what will come next in Viktor & Rolf's world, especially with their next collection to be revealed in Paris just days away.

Viktor & Rolf were happy to sign autographs after the event and the entire foyer was filled with a queue. I haven’t seen a queue like that with girls hyperventilating since my New Kids on the Block fan-days! The party went on well into the night, and lots of lucky ladies went home with a Viktor & Rolf pic! For some of us the after-party went on well into the night, but for all of us, the afternoon’s VIP treatment alone left us all with a buzz we’ll hang on to for a long time to come.

We at the Barbican have one week left of The House of Viktor & Rolf, it’s been a whirlwind three months of events and visitors, and we’ve loved every minute of it.