The Paris Couture shows have been littering the Instagram feeds of the stylistically inclined for the past week. And while some of the gowns were so beautiful they drew a tear from Celine Dion’s eye — instantly creating a shareable meme — one design team inverted the paradigm: instead of designing couture that the masses would memeify, they designed memes that just happen to be couture.
The avant-garde duo Viktor & Rolf sent stiff, A-line gowns of layered tulle rendered in candy shop colors down the catwalk, the sheer uber-femininity and fussiness offset with emblazoned messages stitched onto the front. Disaffected, millennial-ironic slogans like, “I’m Not Shy I Just Don’t Like You,” “No Photos Please,” “F* This I’m Going to Paris,” and “Amsterdam” with a cannabis leaf took center stage on the couture concoctions, the meme coming first, the dresses incidental. One wide, pyramidal dress rendered in periwinkle and dusty lilac ruffles simply (but boldly) says, “No.”
This tongue-in-chic aesthetic is certainly in Viktor & Rolf’s wheelhouse. Their Fall 2008 Ready-to-Wear collection contained several suits and dresses that had “No” and “Dream On” jutting out like very opinionated fabric tumors left and right. But those dresses, while seared in my mind, arrived too soon to strike a neuron on our digital collective consciousness. Now, Viktor & Rolf have hit the mark.
The dresses went viral on social media, shared widely across every fashion magazine and meme-raker’s Instagram account. As with any unit of cultural expression, the dresses have already spawned their own parodies: @sainthoax superimposed the heads of celebrities onto the models, replacing the slogans with infamous quotes, like Mariah Carey wearing a dress that reads, “I Don’t Know Her,” and Lindsay Lohan donning one that says, “This Is How You Throw A Party In Mykonos, Bitch.”
The collection is a coup not just for content creators itching to make a joke; in a more democratized world of fashion, couture has had trouble surviving as a serious discipline. With the mass-production technologies of the 1950s only proliferating, and the clientele for $50,000 garments dwindling to somewhere around only 30 women in the world, Haute Couture, while beautiful, seems out of touch. But Viktor & Rolf may have sidestepped that harsh reality. Even if they don’t sell those dresses (which they likely won’t), the collection serves as a successful example of an ancillary function of couture collections: advertising. Paola Nannelli, Senior Strategist & Head of Influencer Marketing for Blogmeter, told Vogue Italia in a 2018 article on fashion memes:
Today the success of a show is measured through social metrics, to which brands pay a lot of attention, especially in the planning phase of a launch strategy. Designers and communication managers are increasingly starting from the question: will the collection, the campaign, the testimonial hook my followers on Instagram?
Even when the masses were writing off Haute Couture as too expensive, too fantastical, too exclusive, here stomped in a duo that has refabricated the signification of couture, and of social media marketing, for a new generation. Maybe when the next couture week rolls around millennials and Gen Z-ers will say, “F* This I’m Going To Paris.”