Stepping into the I’VR Isabel Vollrath show at Berlin’s Mercedes Benz Fashion Week was like entering an alternate universe where imagination and primal instinct combined. For her spring/summer 2017 collection, Vollrath has pulled inspiration from Diaghilev’s Les Ballet Russes, a group known for the merging of creative forces at the beginning of the 20th century–where dance, design, art, and music wove their own cultural dream worlds.
Vollrath’s Rite of Spring is a direct reference to Diaghilev’s Sacre du Printemps a ballet to Stravinsky music known for causing riots at its 1913 Paris premier. Even though we are less easily shocked these days, Vollrath still accomplishes dramatic impact and innovation by incorporating dance and music into the exhibition. These elements introduce evocative themes reflected in her designs, and the result is as inspiring as it is inventive.
Part 1, Adoration of the Earth:
We enter an airy room bathed in cool blue light, the amplified sound of chirping birds setting the tranquil forest scene. (Stravinsky described the music at the beginning of the ballet as “a swarm of spring pipes,” surely meant to mimic this same sound.) As we find our places, sensations creep up on us–a saxophonist plays the mysterious creeping melody from the opening of the ballet; a tall sinewy dancer (Lia Kemendi) walks through the crowd, her wide opened eyes and inquisitive expression seeming to see the world for the first time. Her partner (Martin Buczko) wears a black jacket with many ties and layers. While guests are still sitting down, Kemendi carefully removes Buczko’s jacket–exploring, testing the waters. After this brief encounter they are gone in an instant, like birds taking frightened flight when an outsider treads too close.
But not for long–without warning, Kemendi reappears. She plays with extremes–first she stands on pointe, her arms undulating like a bird’s wings, then she races away, darting to a new location by way of slicing soundless jumps. Her partner pursues her, but she is too quick, and avoids his grasp. When the couple finally does meet, they dance a meditative duet–softly tilted heads and up-turned palms, leaning postures and wary steps–evoking images from original Ballets Russes productions. These dancers are an important part of Vollrath’s world, seeming to prepare the ground for the ceremony to come.
Part 2, The Sacrifice:
Everything changes in an instant. Cool blue transforms to stark white. Thumping beats, as if in a nightclub, replace languid saxophone–a modern take on the jarring rhythms that caused such controversy in Stravinsky’s score. The models enter one by one, expressionless Amazons with glowing skin–creatures not of this world. With Vollrath’s attention to detail, the designs are breathtaking: plush layers of tulle in peach and turqoise; blood-red and black taffeta draped and tied; earth-tones brushed with fine strokes of black ink to form tribal patterns. The pieces form the perfect combination of grace and daring–of geisha etiquette, and animal instinct.
The true signature of the show is the accessories–Vollrath’s tribute to ballet. Each model’s hair is slicked into a high bun, her head wrapped in delicate pale pink net. Fastened to the top of each headpiece, an overturned and worn pointe shoe sticks out, the toe reaching past the model’s nose. Some clothing pieces also include bunches of canvas ballet slippers dyed blue, grey, and black, and sewn together to form uniquely multi-dimensional accents.
Just like a corps of dancers, this collection is even greater than the sum of its exquisite parts. As the models enter together at the end, charging forward in lines until they fill the whole space, the confrontational effect is stunning. They turn as a group to each angle, displaying all the facets of Vollrath’s fine craftsmanship.
Vollrath sees more than the external female form and how to clothe it best. With Sacre du Printemps, she has gone far deeper to explore the female human spirit. By incorporating dance and music into the concept, she establishes herself as part of a bigger conversation than the world of fashion alone provides. Her designs are the culmination of all the inspiration she has so carefully collected and organized, and the result is a work of art.
Applause thundered from the audience when Vollrath stepped forward at the end of the show. The sacrifice had been received, and the rush left us all reeling.
To view the collection and learn more, visit: isabelvollrath.com