Fashion often presents us with other worlds and alternative realities, but design duo Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren have created their own galaxy for autumn/winter 2011. In it, scarlet-faced warrior queens march out to do battle, in preparation for a war against beauty, to a soundtrack of ratcheting drumbeats and soaring strings.
"We were compelled to create an army," they explain. "An army to battle for beauty. A crusade to communicate our passion for fashion. What emerged is a sharp, graphic approach to tailoring; strong fabrics such as heavy felt, bonded suiting, sculpted leather and tuxedo wool were softened and crafted into pieces fit for our battlefield."
In this exclusive film for AnOther, director KT Auleta captured models as they exited from backstage onto the catwalk in Paris last month, and focused on the dramatic red visages created for the show by make-up artist Pat McGrath. "This developed alongside the concept of the show," the designers add, "which was Battle for the Sun. Pat is always able to translate a concept into a real, beautiful reality."
From shimmering, iridescent cheekbones to shaded eye sockets and feathered, flicking lashes, McGrath's red face-paint is more than merely a matte base; it is both textured and flat, characterful and homegeneous. And it suits the autumn/winter collection in its duality: these are clothes which are both strictly tailored and soft, graphically imposing yet whimsical in places.
"We wanted the clothes to look like modern armour," says Viktor & Rolf. "Powerful silhouettes, fortified fabrics, bold colour contrasts and, above all else, triumphant beauty. We also wanted to illustrate a powerful facial statement that was aggressive yet beautiful at the same time."
An idiosyncratic list of juxtapositions from some of fashion's most theatrical and paradoxical design talents, Viktor & Rolf embrace with open arms the more performative aspects of their shows – Russian Doll in 1999 saw model Maggie Rizer swaddled in layers of clothing so as to make her a human matrioshka, while autumn/winter 2001's Black Hole collection featured models clad entirely in black and painted in the shade too with only their eyes burning out from the colourless void. Meanwhile, for autumn/winter 2008, wool coats came with stand-out, cartoon lettering that read 'NO' ballooning from their shoulders like tacit speech bubbles. Triumphant beauty indeed.
"I saw the women as an army of warriors crossing from the darkness into the light," explains director Auleta. "I developed it backstage where we had our little corner set: girls would come on their way to their first looks, and one by one we built our army."
So the illumination of a spotlight above a runway becomes a sun blazing above a battlefield; the captured faces of models such as Lindsey Wixson and Jacquelyn Jablonksi become serried ranks of soldiers, their features interchangeable as just one among many of an amassing horde. What McGrath's ingenious red make-up does in homegenise one and all, rendering each model anonymous in a Steampunk sort of a way, both intergalatic and futuristic as well as studiedly arcane and primal.
"The style for the show was 'modern medieval'," says hairdresser Luigi Murenu. "So I did textured hair with a braid on both sides, weaved together into a stronger one at the back – to represent a romantic but aggressive warrior woman."
As disassociated from real life as these Amazons may have seemed on the catwalk, they are still foot-soldiers of fashion: we will march to similar drumbeats come autumn.