Calm Couture

Viktor & Rolf Go Zen

For their return to couture after 13 years, designers Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren offered a minimal collection that represented their current state of being ‘happy with what we do.’

Francois Guillot/AFP/Getty

For their much-anticipated return to couture, Viktor & Rolf went zen.

As the crowd entered their Fall 2013 Couture show, held on Wednesday in Paris, they were greeted by a floor covered with a raked sand beds—a key element in Zen gardens—with stone arrangements. The Dutch designers Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren sat cross-legged on the stage in mindful repose as the audience took their seats.

The collection marked their return to couture after a 13-year hiatus—and a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the brand. “After 20 years of running, we want to be happy with what we do and translate it into couture,” Horsting said. “We love couture. It is a great laboratory for experimentation," said Snoeren.

Asked by a journalist following the show if this collection was about Japan, they said instead that it was about mindfulness and being in the moment. The collection was an exercise in minimalism—a word they used to describe the designs—and every piece was made in the same black material, treated to look like rocks and grass. "We like black because it allows more focus on the shapes."

Indeed. Wearing simple sandals and lopsided sculptural creations in every shape imaginable, the models walked across the space before molding together to form several stonelike formations on the stage.

In order to create these formations, their dresses were unfolded and extended over limbs and over each other with the help of the designers in a move that emphasized the idea of sculpture. The designs were meant to be “stark” and “austere,” the designers said, and there were no straight seams in the creations. One severe-looking pencil-like dress, which stretched down to the ankles, featured a swirl-like seam winding down the front as its only decoration. Like the patterns raked through the sands, seams wound through the garments to create cut-out-like pockets and shapes and new dimensions and silhouettes. (One sculptural creation left one leg completely bare and reached down to the floor in a voluminous train on the other side.)

As for their favorite Kyoto temple, Snoeren told The Daily Beast that it was Ryoanji, which has one of the finest rock gardens in Japan. “We just spent a couple of days there. It was a bit too short,” he said. But then again they have been rather busy. After breaking from couture, the duo launched both men’s and women’s ready-to-wear collections, and also opened stand-alone stores and a perfume line. Last month, they debuted their collection of “couture dolls” at the Royal Ontario Museum in Canada.

Key pieces in the collection combined sculptural, voluminous gatherings of material with sheer panels and more simplistic (almost monastic) designs; some of the creations looked like Little Red Riding Hood dressed in black. If you were under the impression that haute couture is mostly over-the-top eveningwear or outlandish designs, this collection was quite the opposite. “It looks spare and austere, but we spent 1,000 hours creating these,” Snoeren said.