THE QUEEN OF

Marie Claire (South Africa) - - LIFE STORY - WORDS EM­I­LIE GAMBADE

‘she’s spite­ful, opin­ion­ated, bitchy, self-in­dul­gent... And that’s the nicest thing I can say about her,’said John Ly­don, a.k.a. Johnny Rot­ten, the lead singer of the Sex Pis­tols. Dur­ing her long ca­reer,Vivi­enne West­wood has been loved, hated, de­spised, ad­mired and adored. The 72-year-old fash­ion de­signer, who once said that she was ‘the only punk left, ac­tu­ally’, is the liv­ing – and to­day, slightly less provoca­tive – sym­bol of a time where be­ing ob­scene and a fire­brand was en vogue and pretty much de rigueur. West­wood is not just the em­blem of a lost world;she is also what The Guardian’s Stu­art Jef­fries called a ‘jaun­tily knick­er­less re­cip­i­ent of an OBE from the Queen’, red hair top­ping up her au­da­cious self, and an in­flu­en­tial de­signer whose gar­ments have been shap­ing trends,moods and a new gen­er­a­tion of tal­ented hands for al­most 40 years.

Back in the late ‘70s, Eng­land’s econ­omy was suf­fer­ing from what many would de­scribe as clin­i­cal de­pres­sion and the govern­ment was out of touch and out of ideas. The work­ing class was an­gry, tired and of­ten poor, the harsh cli­mate made worse by a garbage strike that turned Lon­don into a gi­ant trash bin. In this des­o­late set­ting, West­wood planted the grains of her revo­lu­tion. A few years be­fore the sur­fac­ing of the punk ethos, she had started to de­sign some trendy ‘Teddy Boy’ items (think dap­per style, creeper socks, shiny shirts and waist­coats and, yes, bolo ties) for her part­ner Mal­colm McLaren – then still to

SHE STROLLS INTO BUCK­ING­HAM PALACE, ALL FLAM­ING-RED HAIR, SANS KNICK­ERS. SHE BITCHES ABOUT KATE MID­DLE­TON AND CON­SUMERISM. THE GRANDE DAME OF THE NEW WAVE HAS BEEN SHOCK­ING US FOR DECADES BUT SHE’S ALSO BE­COME ONE OF OUR MOST IM­POR­TANT FASH­ION DE­SIGN­ERS AND OUT­SPO­KEN AC­TIVISTS ‘When we started to do punk, we put all of these things to­gether to cre­ate the look of an ur­ban guer­rilla – a rebel’

be­come Bri­tish mu­si­cian and im­pre­sario – and his Let It Rock shop opened in 1971 at 430 King’s Road in Chelsea. By 1974, the bou­tique, which had been re­named Sex, was an Ali Baba cav­ern for bondage and fetish gar­ments, a punk (the word was ap­par­ently used in the late 16th century as a syn­onym for pros­ti­tute) haven where ripped shirts, rub­ber cropped tops and leather jack­ets sported safety pins,‘De­stroy’ slo­gans and ra­zor blades,and where chunky biker boots bore spikes like the sym­bols of some much-wanted icon­o­clasm. The store, which changed fash­ion di­rec­tion and names sev­eral times, soon served as a hang­out for all the left-be­hinds, dis­en­chanted and an­tag­o­nis­tic teenagers, among them, John Ly­don. West­wood claims she dressed the Sex Pis­tols (the band’s name is de­rived from the store) but Ly­don counters this say­ing he dressed him­self in garbage bags and a Pink Floyd T-shirt em­bla­zoned with‘I hate’.In an in­ter­view for Style.com,West­wood ex­plained, ‘When we started to do punk, we put all of these things to­gether to cre­ate the look of an ur­ban guer­rilla – a rebel.’ She elab­o­rated in The Guardian in De­cem­ber 2011, telling Jef­fries, ‘(…) I re­ally wanted to help. I was in­ter­ested in hu­man rights.’ She started to be anti the royal fam­ily be­cause she felt the Queen was a sym­bol of hypocrisy at the time. The mak­ing of the in­fa­mous punk-rock band be­hind ‘An­ar­chy in the UK’ and ‘God Save the Queen’,still stirs wild con­tro­versy:McLaren (who passed away in 2010) and West­wood claimed the band and its iconic style as theirs while Ly­don main­tains that ‘no-one cre­ated [him]’. Dur­ing the 26 months of its short ex­is­tence, the Sex Pis­tols be­came the voice of a dis­mayed gen­er­a­tion and was as equally adored as de­spised:when the brand em­barked on its 1976 tour, Bernard Brook-Par­tridge, a Con­ser­va­tive mem­ber of the Greater Lon­don Coun­cil, fa­mously said: ‘I think that most of these groups would be vastly im­proved by sud­den death.The worst group (...) the Sex Pis­tols (...) are the an­tithe­sis of hu­man kind and the whole world would be vastly im­proved by their to­tal ut­ter non-ex­is­tence.’ Still, what they ac­com­plished was noth­ing short of a revo­lu­tion; their fol­low­ing was vast, as was the num­ber of bands that sprung in their wake. And West­wood be­came one of the most prom­i­nent Bri­tish de­sign­ers in the con­tem­po­rary world, whether it was be­cause of her unique eye, the Pis­tols’ con­tro­versy that sur­rounded her, or a wild com­bus­tion of both – quite a ride for some­one who started as a pri­mary-school teacher.

Born on 8 April 1941 in Der­byshire, Vivi­enne Is­abel Swire moved to Mid­dle­sex with her par­ents at the age of 17, and en­rolled to train as a teacher.Of her child­hood,West­wood says: ‘I was a good per­son. I was high-spir­ited but I was a big reader. What I re­mem­ber as a child is that other kids didn’t care about suf­fer­ing. I al­ways did.’ In 1962, she met Derek West­wood, a commercial air­line pi­lot. The cou­ple wed the fol­low­ing July and had a son, Ben­jamin, now an erotic and fetishist pho­tog­ra­pher and fash­ion de­signer.The mar­riage ended three

‘If you wear clothes that don’t suit you, you’re a fash­ion vic­tim. You have to wear clothes that make you look bet­ter’

years later when Vivi­enne met 18-year-old McLaren. In 1967, they had a child to­gether (to­day’s Agent Provo­ca­teur cre­ator Joseph Corré), pro­pel­ling the punk move­ment from their shop, un­til the col­lapse of the Sex Pis­tols. In 1980, quite sym­bol­i­cally, the shop was re­named World’s End. Fol­low­ing the end of an era and be­fore sep­a­rat­ing in 1984, the cou­ple fo­cused on or­ga­niz­ing its first cat­walk show – for the Pirate collection – launch­ing the post-punk new-ro­man­tic tenet that would later be so syn­ony­mous with the West­wood brand.

There is some­thing re­mark­ably ex­u­ber­ant in West­wood’s per­sona and aes­thet­ics. Not ev­ery­body can walk into Buck­ing­ham Palace, twice, wear­ing no un­der­wear – once to re­ceive the Or­der of the Bri­tish Em­pire (in 1992),in a long,grey tai­lored dress and a match­ing side béret (West­wood fa­mously twirled in the Palace court­yard, ex­pos­ing her knick­er­less self); and a sec­ond time to be made Dame Com­man­der of the Bri­tish Em­pire (in 2006), in a black dress, a pair of black mules with riv­eted metal holes and tiny sil­ver horns perched on her head. Be­sides be­ing hon­oured by the Queen, West­wood’s star­tling sig­na­ture has her fans come to her for out­fits that are both rec­og­niz­able and unique: Sex and the City’s cos­tume de­signer Pa­tri­cia Field, chose an ex­trav­a­gant wed­ding dress for Car­rie Brad­shaw; Princess Eu­ge­nie wore an out­landish out­fit at the Duke and Duchess of Cam­bridge’s royal wed­ding in 2011. Other ac­co­lades in­clude a ret­ro­spec­tive in 2004 at the Vic­to­ria & Al­bert Mu­seum af­ter 34 years in fash­ion and, most re­cently, in Spring 2013, her de­signs were in­cluded in the PUNK: Chaos to Cou­ture ex­hi­bi­tion at The Met in New York.

To­day, she has be­come some­thing of a bril­liant fash­ion his­tori­cist, colour­ing her col­lec­tions with re­flec­tions from the past, from me­dieval cos­tumes or the paint­ings of Thomas Gains­bor­ough to de­tailed un­der­dresses from the Re­nais­sance, all the way through to her fa­mous 1985 tai­lored cot­to­nand-tweed ‘mini crini’, a minia­ture ver­sion of the crino­line. She plays with crafty and tech­ni­cal cuts, pleats like del­i­cate origami, a collection mixed and ban­daged with bits of trash that some­times turn it into a ran­dom med­ley.And her de­signs still man­age to en­hance the woman’s body: ‘If you wear clothes that don’t suit you, you’re a fash­ion vic­tim.You have to wear clothes that make you look bet­ter,’she once said.In 1994, West­wood cre­ated faux cul skirts with ex­ag­ger­ated postérieurs that made legs look longer and the waist look smaller. On this, Vogue’s Anna Win­tour said, ‘We all laughed the first time we saw crino­lines. But it’s good that some­one re­fuses to be all pale and beige and cash­mere.’

West­wood’s re­fusal to toe the line would al­ways colour her pol­i­tics as well. Once quoted as say­ing she still felt the world was ‘run by psy­chopaths’, she ap­peared on the cover of Tatler in 1989 dressed as Mar­garet Thatcher with ‘This woman was once punk’ as a cover line. She is also an ac­tivist, reg­u­larly speak­ing up about cli­mate change and en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues. In 2011, she told The Guardian, ‘I will say some­thing that sounds ter­ri­ble. We’re all go­ing into the gas cham­ber, and what I’m say­ing is that it’s not a bath­room. We’re go­ing to be killed. The hu­man race faces mass extinction,’ adding, ‘We have got to change our ethics and our fi­nan­cial sys­tem and our whole way of un­der­stand­ing the world. It has to be a world in which people live rather than die;a sus­tain­able world. It could be great.’ To sup­port her ar­gu­ments, West­wood wrote a pro­posal dubbed ‘Ac­tive Re­sis­tance to Pro­pa­ganda’, alert­ing hu­mankind to the risk of ‘mud­dling along as usual’, re­main­ing ‘the de­struc­tive and self-de­stroy­ing an­i­mal, the vic­tim of our own clev­er­ness’. She is also a fer­vent sup­porter of Wik­iLeaks’ Ju­lian As­sange and a vo­cal critic of Kate Mid­dle­ton (not that the two have any­thing in com­mon). Of the lat­ter she said – ap­par­ently af­ter Mid­dle­ton went to Alexan­der McQueen’s Sarah Bur­ton for her wed­ding dress – ‘I think she’s got a prob­lem with eye make-up.The sharp line around her eyes makes her look hard. Ei­ther she should be smudgy or wear none.’

To­day, all that’s left of di­nosaurs are birds; and all that re­mains of the punk move­ment is Vivi­enne West­wood. At 72, she mar­ried An­dreas Kron­thaler,a for­mer stu­dent and 24 years her ju­nior, and continues on a path paved with both awards and con­tro­ver­sies. God save West­wood!

Top to bot­tom De­signer Vivi­enne West­wood walks on the Vivi­enne West­wood Red La­bel Spring/ Sum­mer 2013 cat­walk dur­ing Lon­don Fash­ion Week, at the Bri­tish For­eign & Com­mon­wealth Of­fice in Lon­don, Septem­ber 2012; Vivi­enne West­wood Au­tumn/ Win­ter 2013/14 Paris collection.

This spread, clock­wise from top left West­wood’s son Jo Corré at the New Con­naught Rooms in Lon­don, De­cem­ber 2000; West­wood with Mal­colm McLaren in 1981; pos­ing for pho­tog­ra­pher Juer­gen Teller as part of an ex­hi­bi­tion called Men and Women; with Baroness Mar­garet Thatcher at the Vivi­enne West­wood ex­hi­bi­tion at the Mu­seum of Lon­don,April 2000; at the anti-frack­ing protest at the Cuadrilla frack­ing site in Sus­sex, Eng­land,Au­gust 2013; in­vesti­tures at Buck­ing­ham Palace, Lon­don, June 2006; Steve Jones,Alan Jones, Chrissie Hynde, Jordan Pamela Rooke,Vivi­enne West­wood and friend at Sex on King’s Road, Lon­don, 1976.

JEAN PAUL GAULTIER AND MADONNA Gaultier ad­mit­ted that he was al­ways a fan of Madonna, hop­ing he would, one day, de­sign her cos­tumes.At her 1990 Blond Am­bi­tion Tour, Madonna sported his iconic cone bra, sold in De­cem­ber 2012 for $52 000 (over R520 000) at the Christie’s Pop Cul­ture auc­tion in Lon­don. GUCCI AND FLORENCE WELCH It was an in­stant love af­fair be­tween Gucci’s Cre­ative Di­rec­tor, Frida Gian­nini, and singer Florence Welch.The brand de­signed Welch’s North Amer­ica Tour in 2011 and again, in 2012, for the Florence + the Ma­chine Cer­e­mo­ni­als Tour. Gian­nini ex­plained in an in­ter­view with Dazed Dig­i­tal,‘I met her in Los Angeles at this year’s Gram­mys and was cap­ti­vated by her pres­ence. She has a pow­er­ful per­son­al­ity and an en­tranc­ing qual­ity to her per­for­mances. She also has that con­fi­dent and self­as­sured look that goes hand in hand with the Gucci woman.’

VIVI­ENNE WEST­WOOD AND THE SEX PIS­TOLS In 1975, the fa­mous punk-rock band was formed un­der the man­age­ment of West­wood’s part­ner, Mal­colm McLaren.The band’s par­tic­u­lar style – a mix be­tween bondage, fetishism and ripped clothes – was rooted in the early hippy cul­ture and was mainly de­signed by West­wood.

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