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Double Dutch

A look at the first in-depth exhibition in the UK by Viktor & Rolf at the Barbican.

An abundance of silverware holding hundreds of mini croissants and pain au chocolates came close to distracting me at yesterday's private view of Victor & Rolf's retrospective at the Barbican. Thankfully, the buttery pastries are taken away and I begin making my way around the cavernous space that is the Barbican Art Gallery.

For the next few months, it has been transformed by the well-regarded Dutch designers into a 6m-high, three-story doll's house that's home to no less than 55 miniature Victor & Rolf-dressed Victorian dolls, standing at just 2ft high and wearing scaled-down versions of their original designs. "Their heads were baked in the oven five times", says one half of the bespectacled pair, Viktor Horsting, between sips of a much-needed espresso on one of the gallery's balconies. "When you paint them the pigment has to set in the oven. It's a traditional 19th century way of making dolls. So in a way, this is an anti-fashion exhibition." While that may be true – the intricately crafted installations supporting Victor & Rolf's design oeuvre wouldn't look out of place in the Guggenheim – there is no escaping the fashion here. "The idea of a retrospective is actually quite boring, I think", says Rolf Snoeren, the more timid of the two. "It's important for us to do something new, and to challenge ourselves as well as the people that will be coming to look at our clothes."