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Fall 2009: Viktor & Rolf's surreal life

January 24, 2009 |  1:28 pm

I was crestfallen after being told that Viktor & Rolf had gone for a more subtle, toned-down direction for fall 2009. Their colorful, humorous, themed collections (last season's Hawaiiana and the Hockneyiana of spring 2008) are routinely among my favorites.

But have no fear, though the color palette may be a more sobering range of blacks and gray-blues with some dusky oranges thrown in, and the assortment of suits, jackets, denim -- and for the first time men's shoes -- comes off as more traditional at first glance, the Dutch design duo have a trick or two up their collective sleeve.

Vrm18 Upon closer examination, a black suit, which from across the room seems to be a bold, textured houndstooth is actually a tone-on-tone pipe (the smoking kind, not the plumbing kind) pattern; dress shirts are festooned with allover flock-printed and screened bowler hats; bow ties are padded like puffy clouds; and the herringbone pattern of a mackintosh coat is actually a printed-on nylon.

And then there's the T-shirt of a pipe-smoking man, with his face obscured by a large green apple. That's right, for fall 2009, Viktor & Rolf Monsieur have borrowed some of the favorite motifs of everybody's favorite surrealist painter René Magritte -- the way Moschino did for its runway show in Milan a few days earlier.

But the beauty of the V&R collection was that it was much more subtle, and therefore more versatile, than past collections, and the surrealist back story merely indicates more visual trickery to come. What looks like a chunky herringbone weave on a blouson turns out to be stretch leather quilted in a herringbone pattern and bunched together (even the ribbed cuffs, traditionally cloth, are leather).

Camel-colored tuxedo pant side seams are made to look like packing tape, and metallic shoes that look like an adult loafer version of bronzed baby shoes are actually hand-painted leather with the shiny patent coating glossed overtop.

The result is a fall collection that can be mixed and matched and worn in many more circumstances (some shirts have button-down collars that can button out like a traditional shirt, or fold inside the shirt, creating a collarless version, which can't but help in this economic climate). And that they've done it without losing a scintilla of their sartorial wit deserves a tip of the bowler hat indeed.

-- Adam Tschorn

Photo: Tone-on-tone pipe jacquard suit, cotton dress shirt with allover bowler hat flocking and leather shoes from Viktor & Rolf Monsieur, Jan. 24. Photo: Blommerst & Schumm.

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