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The story behind Viktor&Rolf’s theatrical and meme-worthy ‘NO’ look


TextKristen Bateman

Legendary make-up artist Pat McGrath shares the creative and explains how you can recreate the bold statement yourself

The hair and make-up on the runway is often very experimental. Creative freedom combines with eclectic visions from designers to bring together the ultimate fantasy. Runway Retrospectives is a column that explores some of the most legendary catwalk beauty looks of all time.

WHO

As a fashion design house, Viktor&Rolf has always sought to push the boundaries of what fashion is. The line was founded in 1993 by Dutch duo Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren. Originally formed as a fashion brand that exclusively dabbled in haute couture rather than ready-to-wear, the designers created some of the most avant-garde looks that all had a key element: performance. For example, for AW99, Viktor&Rolf dressed model Maggie Rizer in various layers, on a spinning platform. The experience was akin to the creation of a live matryoshka doll. The designers also presented equally thought provoking ready-to-wear collections from the seasons of AW00 to AW10.

For Viktor&Rolf’s AW08 show, the designers sent models down the runway wearing multiple statements of “NO”. There were sequined messages of the word, along with 3D versions of it protruding from grey trench coats. The word was even embroidered on elegant metallic dresses. But most importantly, it was also painted expertly on the model’s faces, overlapping the eyes, nose and ending just before the mouth. For a whimsical touch that truely echoed the aesthetic messaging behind the brand, the words “Dream On” were also applied to clothing in 3D form and through embroidery. As far as Viktor & Rolf ready-to-wear shows go, AW08 was a bit more refined in its performance – the most extreme and avant-garde part of this show was the intended statement of “No,” and the many ways it appeared and transformed throughout the collection.

Yet the make-up was one of the most extreme beauty statements the brand had ever made. For the make-up, Pat McGrath executed the bold “No” etched across many of the model’s faces, as well as the perfectly shaped red lips and dark liner.  Luigi Murenu created the slicked-back, wet-look hair. Some of the top models during the time walked in the show too, though you may not have recognized them due to the piercing black “No” that simultaneously overwrote their features and represented an idea very close to the designers’ hearts (more on that later). Magdalena Frackowiak, Natasha Poly, Anja Rubik, Abbey Lee Kershaw, and Coco Rocha were just a few of the famous faces in the show.

WHAT

Even though the dark-hued collection, mostly rendered in inky black and blood red, was a standout on its own, the make-up and hair is what really tied it all together and brought concept to fruition. While a good number of models had the bold “NO” painted across their faces, the others had thick, black liner rimmed on the lash line and under the waterlines in an oval cat-like shape. The blackened “NO”s and eyes had a slight tinge of glitter finish, sparkling under the bright runway lights. Each model also wore a glossy, red lip, reinforcing the mostly red and black palette. 

“Viktor&Rolf AW08 was characteristically subversive with its juxtapositions of classical silhouettes in a restricted colour palette with bold messaging,” McGrath tells us of the inspiration. “By saying ‘no’ and ‘dream on,’ this disruptive Dutch duo they said ‘yes’ to iconic irony.”

Hair stylist Luigi Murenu was the one responsible for the slicked back, wet-effect look. Each model wore their hair pulled back tightly, which only reinforced the overwhelming message of “No” and “Dream on,” both severe and whimsical all at once.

WHERE

The show took place at Paris during Paris Fashion Week, where the designers had been staging its show since the early 90s. For the occasion, the designers chose a completely white venue, which made the collection and extreme make-up pop all the more. As techno music blared with violin interludes, models marched down the runway. The word “No” often could be heard droning on above the music.

WHY

Viktor&Rolf’s AW08 show was a key show in the brand’s history because the visual very clearly represented the overall deeper concept in an ironic yet simplistic way. “When we were designing that season we really didn't feel like making anything,” Rolf tells us. “The never-ending deadlines and the fact that there was no time for us to really reflect. There were a lot of negative thoughts. The word ‘NO’ kept popping up on our sketches. We then decided to use our feelings and literally incorporate the word ‘NO’ in our designs.

As such, the garments were even constructed with this in mind – not perfectly stitched together, but made to look as if they were stapled together, symbolising the neverending rush of the fashion system, constantly pumping out new collections. Later on, the designers would become more and more outspoken about the frighteningly fast cycle of the fashion industry, eventually ending their ready-to-wear shows just a few years later in 2010. The AW08 ready-to-wear show would be one of their last ready-to-wear shows ever.

Similarly, McGrath’s liner matched up in concept, presenting as bold tribute to the epic fashion pace. Though the lip had an almost perfect look about it, the eyes, rimmed in dark black, were reminiscent of punk and goth subcultures, heavy-handed and unafraid to go above and beyond the conventional eyeliner look in placement. Some of the liner nearly touched the brow bone.

The show notes only reinforced the fact that Viktor&Rolf’s AW08 was slightly autobiographical, relating to their own experience. “Although often presented as purely conceptual designers, Viktor and Rolf have said that their shows are self-portraits, that they are always an expression of their own state of mind, whether that is one of turmoil or calm, optimism or pessimism.”

HOW TO GET THE LOOK

McGrath suggests getting the make-up look with her own line of products, using Skin Fetish: Sublime Skin – The System. She says to get skin smoothed and hydrated with the Sublime Perfection Primer, then blend Sublime Perfection Foundation into the skin using the Sublime Perfection Foundation Brush. Apply Sublime Perfection Concealer to erase imperfections and build coverage with the Sublime Perfection Concealer Brush. Finally, top it off with Sublime Perfection Powder set, to smooth and lock in for a long wearing immaculate complexion.

For the eyes, whether you want to do the big “NO” or the more wearable black eye, she suggests using Permagel Ultra Glide Eye Liner in ‘XTREME BLACK’ to create rich black statement shapes on the eyes and face, outlining with Perma Precision Liner in ‘XTREME BLACK’ to defines edges. She then suggests topping it off with Skin Fetish Balm Duo – ‘CLEAR BALM’ pressed on top of black shapes with a synthetic flat brush to reflect “a divine pristine sheen”. Finally, she says to apply MatteTrance Lipstick in ‘ELSON’ “in a curated layering cadence – press into the lips with a finger, tissue-blot, then press colour into the lips again.” She would finish up the look by defining edges lips using a small cotton bud and micellar water, and applying ‘Blood 2’ LustGloss. 

The hair look is a much faster process. While hair is still damp, brush it back and apply a combination of gel and cream to give the hair a wet look – the combo of two products keeps it from looking too greasy. We suggest Oribe Gel Serum and Kiehl’s Creme with Silk Groom Styling Creme for Hair. Gently work the product through hair, brush it through and then pull hair back with a clear elastic.

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