Sunday, 9 September 2012

Black Light: Alexander Wang S/S 2013 vs. Viktor & Rolf S/S 1999

When I read about the amazing black light finale at Alexander Wang's S/S 2013 show, I couldn't help but compare it to the work of Viktor & Rolf. Wang's use of visual trickery to completely transform his collection is fantastic, but it's worth comparing it to what Viktor & Rolf created for for their own Spring/Summer collection of 1999. Let's hit the lights.

Alexander Wang

Alexander Wang SS13 Black Light
[Image via]

The only warning of what was to come was the announcement that flash photography was not allowed at Wang's latest show. Bewildered attendees must have wondered why, as it was only in the closing moments that the lights went down to reveal an ethereal glow from the clothing. What could have ended up like a tacky disco moment was instead made into a sleek piece of artistry because of the cut-out nature of each piece, creating bold panels of white and complemented by a single line on each model's head that marked their bodies out against the darkness. Wang referenced the futuristic film Tron to put the effect into context.

So, how was the panelled effect achieved so successfully? Using fishing line. This makes each part seem to be suspended in thin air, which adds to the artistry of the whole collection, right down to the simplistic white stilettos with thin straps that divided the legs into neat sections. Essentially the black light helped us to see each look in its own right, without distractions.

Viktor & Rolf

Viktor & Rolf SS99 Black Light

[Image via Google Books]. 

It's such an early moment for the design duo that V&R's Black Light doesn't even feature on (my Bible for quality catwalk images that don't look like they've been taken by someone nine rows from the front row using a dodgy Blackberry). Instead I turned to Fashion at the Edge: Spectacle, Modernity and Deathliness by Caroline Evans, to find what the author described as 'their last spectral collection before they launched themselves into the real world of embodied fashion and commerce'. The designs were firstly shown in black light, then in normal conditions, to show the transformation.

What I gleaned from the images was that Viktor & Rolf were already establishing themselves as not being easy to categorise: the designers who couldn't be neatly put into a box. This was about having original ideas and wanting to put on a show, making the wearer feel like a gallery piece rather than a sex object or a dowdy housewife. It was part-freak and part-opulent, yet somehow the aesthetic worked, down to the skeletal lines on a trouser suit.

Comparing the Two

Wang's use of lighting might seem like an afterthought compared to V&R's theatrical staging, but I think we have to remember that Wang is able to take fewer risks as the creator of a highly commercial brand. What he has produced is just enough quirk to raise the stakes of Fashion Week, without alienating buyers and your middle-of-the-road fashion lover. Keeping trendsetters and trend followers equally happy is not an easy task, but he seems to have pulled it off without totally plagiarising his black light trailblazers.

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