What brands can learn from Dutch fashion royalty Viktor & Rolf

12 Aug

Last night I went to see the House of Viktor & Rolf at the Barbican artgallery. Over the past 15 years, these Dutch fashion designers have taken the fashion world by storm with their blend of cool irony and surreal beauty. Perhaps as I went straight from work and my brain was still whirring with advertising thoughts, I couldn’t help but wonder what brands could learn from such as inspiration like Viktor & Rolf. So here are four things that came to mind…

Don’t be confined by your industry norms and conventions

The fashion industry dictates new collections for every season. Rather than conform to a needless norm, Viktor & Rolf took to the streets in 1996 with a daring high coverage show of self promotion with posters announcing ‘Viktor & Rolf on strike’. And in 2002, Viktor & Rolf eschewed the convention in which each model wears one outfit. The ‘Russian Doll’ show featured one model who wore the entire collection sequentially. The pair have continued to shock and break conventions.

A gorilla playing the drums to Phil Collins surely goes against all advertising conventions with no big product shots, no happy middle class family, and no big logo, but that seemed to work out just fine.

Communicate ideas in innovative ways

Viktor & Rolf have always communicated their ideas in inventive ways. To get across the ephemeral nature of the fashion industry, in 2002 they used bluescreen technology to create special effects through the juxtaposition and overlapping of different images. And in a more recent fashion show, Viktor & Rolf wanted to communicate how each outfit is a self sufficient fashion show. They did this by dressing each model as a walking event – harnessed to independent lighting and sound systems. Take a look at the clip here.

In the same way, brands need to move away from just telling people their ideas, and rather express them in a memorable and relevant way. Take courier company Deadline Express for example. To prove the idea that when they give you a time they actually mean it, they created a billboard featuring a countdown timer to when it would blow up. And it did. Watch it an action at YouTube here.

And when Honda wanted to communicate the idea that “Difficult is worth doing”. They did this with a daring and difficult live TV ad.

Have a strong sense of self

Similar to the need for brands to understand their own brand DNA, Viktor and Rolf have a strong sense of self. They know who they are and they express how they feel. Viktor & Rolf have always said their shows are an expression of their own state of mind. Frustrated by the relentless turnaround of seasonal collections, this year they turned around and just said NO. “We love fashion, but it’s going too fast”. Fair enough. You’ve got to respect them for it. What brands out there truly know who they are and express this at every touchpoint?

Draw inspiration from other industries and the world around you

Just as I am attempting now, Viktor & Rolf have never been confined to drawing inspiration solely from the fashion industry that surrounds them. They have always been inspired by the world of art. In an early exhibition, they created an installation based on historical PVC costumes, headless figures, entrapped behind glass. They also draw inspirations from the social and cultural context surrounding them. At the end of the 90’s, Viktor & Rolf drew inspiration from two contradictory scenarios – the end of the world and the biggest party ever. They created a collection based on the silhouette of a mushroom cloud produced by an atomic bomb.

Maybe I am simply clutching at straws here, but my lack of blogging over the past few weeks has been due to none other than lack of inspiration. Thanks to Viktor & Rolf, I am once again feeling inspired. Thank you.


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