FROM THE VAULT (SUMMER 2010)
BORN: April 8, 1941; Derbyshire, England.
LABELS: Vivienne Westwood, Red label, Anglomania
AWARDS: In 1992, Westwood was awarded an OBE, and then in 2007, a DBE. She has been named the British Designer of the Year three times
Revolutionaries rarely come as bold and radical as Vivienne Westwood, the earth mother of modern fashion and a total original, whose trailblazing, entirely unique approaches to dress have been shocking, inspiring and galvanising the fashion world for more than 20 years. Being totally untrained has meant that Viv (as she is called, with total affection) has gained her knowledge the hard way.
She did not learn about fashion at an art school, but by looking at the great costume collections in museums across the world, starting with the Victoria & Albert in London. She brought to her research an enquiring mind entirely innocent of preconceptions and totally indifferent to the work of her contemporaries. And from that virgin soil grew a totally original creativity and integrity that still has few equals in the world today. It has grown from a mind completely unclouded by the attitudes of others.
Everything that Viv has achieved stems from asking “Why?” and “Why not?” – the words that have activated radical political thinking over many centuries. And she is entirely political, seeing no inconsistency in making clothes and also at the same time making trouble for dictators and totalitarian regimes while fighting for the rights of the individual…
So, what does this tell us about this extraordinary woman? Simply that she is entirely unique, a one-off whose complexity could never be created by a novelist or playwright. There will never be another Viv. And that is why fashion should cherish her as much as for all the ideas she has given to so many lesser design talents. How can anyone question the value of a woman who cycles to work and is married to a man half her age – and makes it work.
Vivienne Westwood’s woman is like her: feisty, uncompromising, unafraid of new ideas and always ready to question old ones. She is also remarkably sweet and innocent in so many ways that men find irresistible. But any guy wanting to take charge of one of Viv’s girls is in for a shock. When a woman wears something with a Westwood label she is immediately empowered – so watch out.
WHAT WERE YOU DOING 10 YEARS AGO?
“I have an appalling memory for life anecdotes, but my serious thinking was nothing to do with fashion, really. My whole existence is a constantly changing outlook that takes in the history of culture and the terrible things we are doing to our planet. We have made ourselves an endangered species with our greed and lack of imagination.”
HOW HAS YOUR APPROACH TO FASHION CHANGED OVER THE PAST 10 YEARS?
“I don’t feel hopeful or joyful about fashion. My approach to fashion is to try as much as possible to share things with my husband, Andreas. The work gets easier. I used to find that coming up with themes was very difficult. I always start very practically with the fabrics and the cutting. I love playing with gender.”
IN WHAT WAYS ARE PERSONAL APPEARANCE AND LIFESTYLE IMPORTANT TO YOU?
“I never think about lifestyle. My reading and my personal ideas are my lifestyle. I am lucky enough to have choice. And my great luxury is to be at home, cooking. I only buy wholefoods. I am lucky that I can afford it.”
TEN IS CONSIDERED A TALISMANIC NUMBER. WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU?
“Ten is not a magic number. I remember teaching seven-year-olds and I remember their textbook for maths. The magic 0. It would be better if we had 12 fingers instead of 10.”
FASHION IS CHANGING RAPIDLY. HOW WILL IT AFFECT YOU IN HOW YOU PRESENT YOUR CLOTHES IN ORDER TO REACH THE MAXIMUM AUDIENCE – AND HOW WILL THAT AUDIENCE DIFFER FROM THE TRADITIONAL AUDIENCE?
“I can’t tell you. So much can change. We used to have strong models like Naomi and Helena. Now they are just skinny kids. Now a fashion show is all about who sits in the incestuous front row. If you had no advertising, you would have word of mouth – a much better way of spreading the word.”
WHEN YOU WERE YOUNG – SAY, 10 OR A TEENAGER – WHAT WERE YOUR AMBITIONS?
“I never thought about ambition, or fashion. I used to make dolls’ clothes but I wanted to be a painter. Until my family moved to London I had never been to an art gallery. I started a course of study at Harrow School of Art but I gave it up after one term because I thought I was too working class to go to college. I thought of being a secretary but then I became a teacher.”
OUTSIDE OF FASHION, WHAT ARE THE THINGS THAT MAKE YOU HAPPY OR SAD?
“What makes me happy or sad is my body temperature. I have mood changes. Some days I get very depressed. If it is a bad day, my intellect goes and I worry because I always want to do my best.”
WHAT ARE THE TRUE INSPIRATIONS FOR YOU – IN YOUR LIFE AND IN YOUR DESIGNING?
“I became a designer. I didn’t like it very much but then I learned to enjoy it. Although after the Sex Pistols finished and the lease of World’s End was not renewed, Malcolm and I had to decide – music or fashion. We decided fashion and I carried on out of a sense of duty, not enjoyment.”
IF YOU COULD SPEND 10 DAYS TOTALLY AWAY FROM FASHION AND YOUR PRESENT LIFE, HOW WOULD YOU SPEND THEM?
“Every waking minute watching Japanese Noh theatre.”
IN 10 YEARS’ TIME WHAT SORT OF LIFE DO YOU EXPECT TO BE LIVING?
“I hope I am still alive. By then we will know whether we are endangered or have a chance – and what we will do with it.”
by Colin McDowell
Photograph by Juergen Teller – www.juergenteller.com