Saturday 24 August 2019

It's a kind of magic

When she got to hang out in New York with designers Viktor&Rolf for the launch of their new fragrance range, Triona McCarthy never dreamed she'd bond with Rolf because they're both deaf in one ear

From left: Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren of the fashion label Viktor&Rolf
From left: Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren of the fashion label Viktor&Rolf

A curious thing happens as I'm talking to Rolf Snoeren, one half of the Dutch design duo Viktor&Rolf. We're at a chic cocktail party in a big old mansion off Park Avenue in New York. The room is filled with beautiful people for the launch of the Magic Collection, a new series of luxury unisex fragrances from the dynamic designers. I'm finding it hard to hear.

I'm completely deaf in my right ear, you see. I was born like that, so years of experience means I know how much harder it is to hear in an environment where there is background noise, or poor acoustics. There are marble floors, photographers snapping away and glasses clinking.

A famous DJ spinning discs in an adjoining room isn't helping my hearing either, goddammit!

I position myself so that Rolf is to my left, next to my 'good ear'. But then he starts moving around to my right. FFS! So I rotate around again.

It starts to look like we're doing some sort of dance routine in slo-mo. WTF?

"I like your quiff!" I think he says.

"My quiff?" I ask, confused. My hair is blow-dried perfectly straight, BTW.

"Your gift."

"Gift, what gift? I didn't bring a gift!" I say. "People brought gifts?"

"YOUR GIF [a mini movie with no sound]!"

And then it dawns on me as I look at Rolf, with his right ear cocked: he's deaf in his right ear as well.

What are the odds?

But it made for a great bonding moment. He tells me it makes him quieter, whereas I overtalk to overcompensate for not hearing what people are saying.

We agree it's made us very visual people, as we both use our eyes to hear. And now it all makes sense. Rolf always sits to the left of Viktor.

Go on, google them: OK, they're hard to tell apart, admittedly, in some photos, but they operate a similar system to Ant and Dec, with Ant always on the left and Dec on the right - for easy identification purposes, apparently. Although I'd say that's the first and last time Viktor&Rolf have ever been compared to those two!

Fashion icon and US Vogue Contributing Editor Andre Leon Talley once called one of their couture collections "the Viagra of couture week".

Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren founded their fashion house in 1993 after graduating from the Arnhem Academy of Art and Design. They are often described as fashion artists, with their unconventional approach to fashion creating wearable art in their own unique style.

A standout moment came in 1999 when they dressed model Maggie Rizer onstage in their whole collection, adding heavily embroidered crystal and lace couture dresses one by one as a "preparation" for the next layer - basically creating a Russian matryoshka doll in reverse.

I remember interviewing the duo back in 2005, in Paris, for the launch of their very first foray into fragrance, Flowerbomb.

I thought I was seeing double, as they looked so similar: both bespectacled, with their hair parted the same way. But they're actually not twins or a real-life couple, as many peeps think - they just like to look alike. They were completely wacky yet wonderful to chat to. It was hard to make out, at times, if they were being serious... or taking the (rhymes with kiss)! It's safe to say I found them rather eccentric, but intriguing.

Anyhoo, Flowerbomb was a huge success, with its quirky hand-grenade-shaped bottle bursting with an exotic floral explosion, wrapped in sweet and sensual waves of tea and bergamot, combined with patchouli and vanilla. In fact, it has gone on to become one of the most popular women's luxury-brand fragrances in the world, subsequently spawning Spicebomb in 2011 and Bonbon in 2014.

Now, in keeping with their addictive catalogue of fragrances, we have six stunning new unisex scents which comprise the Magic Collection, each as enchanting as the last.

The concept takes inspiration from magical lore, with potions, tarot cards and spells imbuing the design with otherworldly vibes. When I sit down to chat with the pair in NYC, Viktor tells me how excited and proud they are of this collection. "We worked on it for two years and with great pleasure."

So, how the hell do you come up with something like this, I was dying to know. "We thought of a magic box," says Viktor, "so we thought 'Magic' was a great name, because it also implies transformation, and transformation is very important in our world in general. Our fashion is also always transformational. We liked the idea - to work around a magic box, and every fragrance would be a magic trick. Every fragrance has its own artwork, because for us it can be magical, so every name has its own surreal little universe and artwork."

I got to try out all the scents and, because these guys don't do anything like anyone else, I got to make my own GIF with them - where it looks as if I'm levitating - and this is what Rolf was complimenting me on later that evening at the party: my GIF!

But back to the juice, as perfume peeps call scent. There is a concentration on heady ingredients like rose, sage and lavender across the collection. My mind was officially blown with the fragrances.

Of the six scents, I had two favourites. Liquid Diamonds has a lovely, clean, fresh-smelling, peony-inspired scent, with a floral bouquet and touch of musk. "That would be my day time," I tell the boys. For night, it would be Dirty Tricks - a real bedroom-worthy perfume, with notes of iris and ink working together beautifully to create something really enticing.

Rolf tells me Liquid Diamonds is "like a name we came up with because we felt that it's just something that's not possible, to make something so hard into something so soft. Something you want to have. But it's impossible to distil. We thought of something extremely clean, very transparent".

And that's what I really get from it. I instantly thought of clothes, freshener... fabric conditioner almost, you know; which is such a lovely, clean smell, but quite sexy. It's like lying on freshly laundered sheets.

To complete the sextet: there's Dancing Roses, which takes the classic rose petal and boosts it with cherry notes for another sensual, feminine fragrance. Lavender Illusion combines decadent lavender and fresh citrus, caviar notes for a rich, intoxicating finish. In contrast, Sparkling Secret has a sweet citrus and woody overtone, with a pop of orange blossom that adds a delicious dimension of freshness.

To round off the six-piece collection, Sage Spell incorporates sage, absinthe and wormwood - an unusual choice for perfumers - to evoke a bitter scent, softened with earthy sage. It really is magic, how this collection comes together, with the individual scents contrasting and complimenting each other. The fragrances are housed in deceptively simple bottles reminiscent of vintage apothecary glassware, with beautiful bubble details set below the surface, serving to give the impression of movement where there is none.

Kind of like my GIF - MY GIF, I SAID, for the hard-of-hearing out there!

The Magic Collection is available exclusively in The Marvel Room at Brown Thomas, €175 for 75ml

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