Sunday, 29 January 2012

In praise of Vivienne Westwood








I wish I could say that this jacket is a Vivienne Westwood – it’s not, but I connect red tartan indelibly with her designs. The history of Vivienne Westwood’s career and life is as well known and worn as one of her coveted blazers or dresses. It invariably starts with her relationship with Malcolm McLaren, and the shop they opened on King’s Road as the punk movement took tentative Doc Marten-clad steps forward. The look they popularised, which was ripped, zipped and held together with safety pins, is now both recognisable and iconic. The equally well-known Pirates collection followed, and she is still a flame-haired force both within and outside the industry today. There are other supposedly infamous facts shot through so many articles like arrows – collecting an OBE while knicker-less; her famously outspoken nature; a husband twenty-five years her junior. However, to distill Westwood to these specific moments is to make a rough line drawing of a richly vibrant and colourful character. It doesn’t take into account how literate and smart she is, or how she is the best advocate for not giving a damn for what others think. There’s also that inexhaustable talent when it comes to designing clothes – a talent that has won her accolades, awards and a large number of fans in well-draped dresses.

Her stridently expressed views often appear contradictory – who else would suggest "don't buy clothes" whilst simultaneously sating a demand for tailoring and t-shirts? However, her views on the overblown scale of consumerism do bear thinking about. I often find myself questioning the conundrum of a deep interest in the world of fashion when examined in the context of certain moral and ethical issues. There is no clear answer, but perhaps like Westwood, it is a question of balance. Alongside presenting shows in both London and Paris, she has also collaborated with the Ethical Fashion Program to produce a set of bags that are “holistic” in their approach to sustainable style – providing jobs for women in extreme poverty. 
For of course, this is a woman willing to champion the cause of Occupy London, with their just criticism of the malpractice of the bankers - with their bonuses and boats and lack of awareness of the damage wreaked on a fragile economy. She has also donated to Rainforest charity Cool Earth, advocated the Refugee Council, pushed for a plastic-bag free London and supported both Liberty and CND. This is a woman with passionate beliefs. It soaks through her blog, demonstrating the power of an active and engaged mind. For someone like me, who is interested in the cerebral and aesthetic, there is something immensely heartening in seeing the phrase “art lovers unite”. One can imagine her shouting it with a smile.

I hate to suggest that she is defined by her “British”-ness – a term that now conjures up little more than tea cups, union jacks and red phone boxes. But when one places Westwood alongside some of the other designers produced by this country – Christopher Bailey, the late Alexander Mcqueen, Stella McCartney and Hannah Macgibbon to name just a few of the great and good – they are all are marked out not by any degree of similarity, but by their difference in approach, however unorthodox. However, they are perhaps united in once sense – their clothes will always stay memorable.

Westwood holds significance for me in that she was the first ‘proper’ designer I encountered. I have no idea where or how I found out about her work and general antics, but there is photographic proof that aged ten or eleven, I was really embracing the ripped and ruined look. I used to keep a large basket of fabric scraps under my bed, ready to cut, wrap or tie into Barbie clothes (my feminist mum was only going to allow Barbies into the house if there was a certain level of creativity involved). The contents of the basket slowly altered to include a number of old shirts and unwanted items of clothing that I could ‘customise’ with glee for myself. Inspired by what I thought a 'punk' might wear, I snipped away at a horrible sports t-shirt until there was little left beyond the seams, and then wore it with tights cut off at the knee and a section of fabric tied around my waist as a skirt. It wasn’t particularly precocious though – I am still faintly embarrassed to look at the resulting photos of that outfit. But one needs those flickers of creativity. Not only do they form the basis for cheerful memories – but also without some over-excitement with the scissors and glitter glue, who knows whether I would ever have thought of the possibilities of the sewing machine. Admittedly my pattern cutting skills are limited to the point of non-existence, but perhaps Vivienne Westwood, in some convoluted way, contributed to my ability to make a great gathered skirt out of my grandma’s curtains.

My mum bought the jacket in a charity shop (thinking “Ooh, that reminds me of VW!”) as a Christmas present for me. The long grey dress is also second hand, from a Bristol charity shop in Clifton. The gold torque was another Christmas present from a flea market, and the often-featured belt was my paternal grandmother’s. The shoes are vintage (and now very muddy) Pierre Cardin from eBay. On a final note, one can’t mention Vivienne Westwood without providing a link to Pearl’s blog – who, as well as being something of an authority on all things Westwood-design related, also has an extensive and enviably beautiful collection of her designs.  

44 comments:

AVY said...

Totally beautiful.

/ Avy
http://mymotherfuckedmickjagger.blogspot.com

Katrina said...

Such beautiful photos and a very sweet ode to Vivienne Westwood. She had a similar impact on me when i first discovered her designs. Other designers/brands inspire you to buy their clothing. Vivienne however inspired me to keep a basket of clothes for cutting and remodeling, just like you. I still have memories of those grunge years of mine and I love all the photos - I miss that carefree sense of dressing I had when I was younger. Now I have to worry about my body shape, colors matching my skin tone, proper fit and all those things. I miss dressing up like I did when I was little. It felt natural and easy. The thoughts of something not being appropriate or not matching wouldn`t enter my mind.

>'.'<

Bea said...

I love the photos- they're stunning! And I love your writing, too! It's nice to read something about fashion, as well as look at the pretty pictures :)

Closet Fashionista said...

I love these shots! Vivienne is such an amazing woman! I didn't know all of that stuff about her, thats why I love coming to your blog! I always learn things :D
http://www.closet-fashionista.com/

Willow said...

Great photos!
Everything seems to tie together really well - the lighting, the clothes, etc. I love the background, it makes me think of old storybooks for children where the characters would live. I had heard of Vivienne Westwood but have only recently discovered her lovely clothes! I wouldn't have seen that jacket and that dress together without seeing them in this outfit - but I love it! You certainly have an eye for style.

-Willow

artclothesandcontemplations.blogspot.com

styleeast said...

Westwood will always be one of my favourites, she is truly one of a kind. This jacket, and the whole piece, is the perfect homage to one of this country's greatest x

Stephanie Hoff Clayton said...

yours is a lovely tribute to the great vivienne westwood. i hope she sees this post.
as for her views on mass consumerism, indeed it seems to be a question of balance.
westwood's punkish plaid designs of yesterday are still extremely relevant. her influence was, and is, far reaching.
your photos get more amazing with each post. and i do like that jacket on you. although i don't wear patterns these days, my fondness for tartan goes back as far as i can remember, my early childhood.

Pearl Westwood said...

Every post you write blows me away. I would certainly take a great deal of pleasure seeing your childhood outfits. The tale of your mum, the feminist is so wonderful. I have read and listened to many interviews of Dame Vivienne and many anger me, they like to set her up or edit her to sound like the 'crazy old bag lady of fashion' but she is as you say a very intelligent and passionate woman. She was at odds with her life in fashion for many years. Yes it came as a natural talent for her but she always wanted to pursue more causes which she felt were much more important, helping others, helping the world. She says it was when she realised she could use one to help the other that she found some sort of piece with what she did. This is a beautiful tribute to her and thank you for the mention. May be one day I will get around to putting all this knowledge down on paper, instead of it rattling around my head!

Yen said...

I love that your look is a combination of affordable pieces, yet metaphorically expensive. VW would be proud.

I also regard Westwood as my favorite designer because in her, one can notice many contradictory sides. People have different opinions of her, and I believe people liker her differently if justly based on her designs. For me, it is her rebellious femininity that I'm interested. For awhile, I was really indulged in rummaging through her archive to search for the zombie bride look (it was in s/s 2012, if I remember correctly). One thing about VW's designs is that they really define her personality, urging you to break out of the customary shells and stand up. And I agree, she is very British. So stated her designs.

Eesh said...

Gorgeous photos,as always. Vivienne is one of the best :)

alexandratherese said...

Your mum certainly has a good eye for picking out clothes Rosalind! The cut of the blazer is fantastic and the tartan stands out really well when contrasted with the long grey skirt. Much as I admire VW I don't think he clothes are really the kind of thing I'd wear a whole outfit made up of - rather I'd just go for an individual item such as a blazer or skirt because her designs are really quite wacky!

I too thought of Pearl as soon as I saw the title - I hope she gets a chance to read it. Have a great week at college, must dash now!

Alexandra xx

Zorian said...

The jacket is very beautiful The lighting and the photos are wonderful. I love the silhouette with the light caressing your face.

Polka Princess said...

I have been inspired by this wonderful redhead (If I can call her that) from the moment I came across her while doing one of my first projects in design school. Since then, I've always followed her collections, ooh-ed & aah-ed at her eccentric creativity and been awed by her flaming personality.

This jacket really does remind one of Westwood's works in all their avant-garde glory!

San said...

Hey, fabulous outfit. Though I would've expected something entirely different when I read Vivienne Westwood.

Yes, that you haven't watched "Room with a view" until now is a major surprise. It's a lovely movie, Maggie Smith is fabulous. No, the handbags aren't carpetbags("Mary Poppins" is one of my favourite movies!), they are made of leather. The bags are quite "box"-shaped, like really small suitcases. Since it's set in 1908 it is after the Victorian period, which would be what period? Thank you for your help so far.

Maria said...

I just discovered your blog - it's a pleasure! Your writing is very good and outfits inspiring :)

Alex said...

A wonderful text about Vivienne Westwood. I wished I could write that elaborate in english (I'm not a native speaker). I adore the mood and attitude in tha last picture!
xx

Nettie S. said...

Very pretty :)

Hope Adela Pasztor said...

I love the last photo! The light shining through your hair is so mesmerizing and gorgeous, and that thick gold necklace is perfectly and elegantly accented with the composition of the photo.

pinkchampagnefashion.blogspot.com

Lydia said...

I really want to see this outfit you made from the sports tee and tights! I love Vivienne Westwood-- I love that she has been able to take a typically low-brow style and elevate it to the runway. And she is so authentically herself-- her collections have never felt forced or like she's "selling out" to me. I had a nude portrait of her as my screen saver for awhile recently, which felt like such a contrast to the oversexualized teen stuff we've been talking about.

Fabrizia said...

Wonderful photos, I like them!!! This is such a nice post!

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Jelisaveta Djukanovic said...

Beautiful! :)

http://liberty-walk-sara.blogspot.com/

The Foolish Aesthete said...

That jacket certainly evokes Vivian Westwood as your mum discerned. I love your photos, particularly the one between the reeds with just a glimmer of the setting sun on your hair! What a gorgeous torque you have on too. I've been reading some Celtic anthropology lately and wish I owned a gold torque too! Come to think of it, your red tartan is straight out of ancient celtic culture too.

Oh, I wanted to thank you for letting me know about the Hugo book. I ordered it and was so pleasantly surprised by the illustrations. It was like viewing a silent film on paper, drawing me into the "film" from the initial images of the moon and sky! xxx

devorelebeaumonstre. said...

nice! xx

Yara Simón said...

These are great photos. I especially like the one with your profile.

Fashionistable said...

"When Westwood said "dont buy clothes she also said but "save up and buy mine" she is very canny. I love tartan very much too. This is a beautiful jacket your mum bought you. I love the pictures as always and the 4th one down is amazing. Xxxx

Ash Louise said...

I've been going through a lot of your older blog posts and your pictures are ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS! I really love them

Paula said...

lovely outfit and amazing photoshoot too <3
have a nice day!

SabinePsynopsis said...

She's a true hero to me, and even though I do not always agree with her views I appreciate that she HAS views and voices them - and that she goes against the grain.

Beautiful photos, with a special favourite being the medusa pic. I also absolutely adore the photos Nadia took of you (I stumbled upon them a while ago on her website). What a wonderful collaboration of you 2.

xoxo

Hazardous Area said...

The last picture is beautiful! Impressive. I really enjoy your blog.
www.thehazardousarea.blogspot.com
xo xo
Take care!

Conversation Pieces said...

Good find by your mum – you could have told me it was VW and I would have believed you :) Love the shot of the sunlight coming through your hair!

Jessica said...

Fabulous post, the last photo is so powerful!

http://chicgeekblogger.blogspot.com/

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Beatrice Ancillotti said...

Lovely photoes, you are so beautiful!
B.

http://confidentialmode.blogspot.com/

c'est freak, le chic said...

You really do write amazingly. x

TheLookLover said...

Ciao! Beautifull your outfits and photoes!Kisse from Italy:)

L'age moyen said...

VW in thrift shops is not something I'm likely to find in our neck of the woods- but I love her designs and I love the fact that she actually likes women's bodies and also loves history. Your pairing this deep grey with the plaid is absolutely wonderful.

Anca Tudorache said...

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Zoé said...

Vivienne Westwood is a bonifida Genius! Unfortunately, I can not afford Vivienne Westwood (though have a VW ring, bought from I remember not where for a knockdown price)

Anyway - great blog - you look absolutely lovely!

Keep up the excellent work and thanks for all the information!

LPFashionPhilosophy said...

So pretty!

ox,
-davie+erica

http://www.lpfashionphilosophy.blogspot.com

SymbioticLife said...

I love VW's approach to fashion. It holds a lightness of heart for me, energy, and attitude. Your pictures are lovely as always.

Vanessa. said...

Great pictures and Vivienne Westwood? Awwww, she's amazing!

Following you, love your blog! Hope you have a chance to take a look at mine too...

xoxo

Izzy/Bella said...

You look STUNNING in the cat-eye glasses.
xx
Izzy
www.misadventuresofme.com

Emily said...

You mentioned in your comment that you posted an outfit including a red tartan jacket as well, and I feared that you looked better in yours. Well, my fears have been realized. There isn't a flaw in this post. Jerk. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Vivienne Westwood. You've enlightened me! Also, you look breathtaking, and I love those sunglasses on you.

**kisses**
Emily

Tela de Araña said...

I wonder if V.W. has ever designed a blazer so beautiful as this one. Again I love your family taste...
and the sentence: perhaps it is a question of balance.

Tayyub Khakan said...

I love your jacket and hair style.

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