Haute Couture Artisans Viktor & Rolf Are Ready To Bring Sustainable Fashion To The Masses

As the conceptual design duo join forces with e-commerce behemoth Zalando, old clothes are set to get a new lease on life.

Dutch duo Viktor & Rolf call themselves “fashion artists” — a fitting designation, considering the imaginative, daring nature of their garments. Having terminated their ready-to-wear line in 2015, the pair’s metier of choice is strictly haute couture, allowing them to fully express their sense of play, drama and exquisite attention to detail in every garment they produce. In light of this, the news that the pair are collaborating with e-commerce giants Zalando on a capsule collection, entitled RE:CYCLE, was quite surprising. However, as the duo explained to Sleek, there’s one very good reason they’re changing their M.O.: sustainability.

For an industry fuelled by design innovation, the fashion world is still disappointingly retrograde when it comes to production. To produce 1 kg of cotton (an equivalent of a T-shirt and a pair of jeans), up to 20,000 litres of water is required. Even then, many unsold garments are destroyed or left in landfills just as quickly as they’re produced. There are, of course, a number of high-profile protagonists who are trying to turn the tide on the fashion industry’s obsession with excess. Stella McCartney champions sustainable production; Salvatore Ferragamo uses sustainably produced fabrics; Gucci recently banned the use of real fur in their collections. But in their recent collections, Viktor & Rolf have been taking things a step further, by incorporating recycled garments into their presentations.

“We thought about the enormous potential for creativity that lies in recycling,” Rolf Snoeren told Sleek when we discussed the collection at the brand’s Maison in Amsterdam. “We experimented with recycling for the first time in our AW 2016 collection, when we used remaining fabrics from our atelier to create haute couture pieces.” They took the idea further with their SS 2017 collection, poetically titled “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”. Inspired by the concept of Japanese pottery, the collection consisted of voluminous, artfully layered gowns, created from a selection of 20th-century dresses.

Still, the designers felt something was missing from these early forays into recycled fashion: the accessibility and wearability of ready-to-wear. This is exactly why they decided to approach Zalando, with a view to creating a capsule collection from Zalando’s recycled overstock. The collaboration they had in mind was supposed to be democratic, accessible and yet artful, like an haute couture collection. The result is a capsule collection consisting of clear-cut separates with Viktor & Rolf’s signature imaginative twist. Fluttering appliqués cling to white dresses; frothing layers of tulle glitter invitingly.

“For us, haute couture is a laboratory of ideas, where even the wildest sartorial dreams come true,” agree the designers. This collection, designated by Zalando as “accessible couture” does, indeed, seem experimental. The number of garments is, of course, limited and also uneven, with a different number of copies of each design. Was it challenging to work on this upcycled collection? “Not at all,” smiles Viktor Horsting. “It felt like something that was meant to be.”

Viktor & Rolf’s RE:CYCLE collection will be available from the 1st of February on Zalando.

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