Shauna Hayes explores the world of Vivienne Westwood, thumb ahead of this summer’s punk exhibition at the MET in New York
Vivienne Westwood personifies the subversive originality of British fashion. The story of her successful career differs from the usual designer history. Her career has been full of conflict, viagra drama, hospital and attitude.
Westwood made her first stamp on the fashion scene in 1971, when she met Malcolm McLaren, the manager of the iconic punk rock band The Sex Pistols. McLaren influenced her by introducing her to the underground culture present in London in the late 1960s. He was known to have an eccentric personality and a deep interest in art and political activism, this clearly added to Westwood’s anarchic attitude which is represented in her early work, in which used the medium of wearable statements to show her rebellious radicalism.
Westwood and McLaren had a drive to bring the ideology of sexual fetish to the streets of culture sodden London. They bought a shop, originally called “Let it Rock”, and re-named to “SEX”. The shop embodied the complete stereotype of “punk”. It was notorious for vulgar and crude slogan t-shirts e.g. “Paedophilia” and “Cambridge Rapist”. In 1976, Westwood put a swastika, along with a crucifixion scene and the head of the queen on a shirt, which was headed by the logo “Destroy”. She claims that this is the shirt which contributed to her first getting notice in the punk-rock fashion scene. Westwood claims, “What this t-shirt is saying is that in those days we hated the older generation and we didn’t expect anything from them, not their taboos, not anything.”
Westwood’s first fashion show was held in 1981. The theme of this show was ‘pirates’. This debut showcase was filled with ethnic cuts and baggy trousers, and with this collection, Westwood cemented her relationship with rock ‘n’ roll. Music and her fashions had an undeniable link since the Sex Pistols, and now Spandeau Ballet and the New Romantics rocked her pirate line constantly.
After her split from McLaren in 1983, Westwood opened her second shop, Nostalgia of Mud. These stepping stone on her journey to fashion royalty led her to a new source of inspiration; this was delving deep into history for her ideas. In contrast to her initial ethos of punk, her new direction was somewhat more respectful of the past. She did not want to play the role of “rebellious teen-figure” anymore and wanted to spread her cultural knowledge. She firmly follows the ethos that “you have to discover the originality of things that exist in the past”. By looking backwards as well as outwards at the youths on the streets who had always intrigued, she expanded her creativity. She wanted to explore the past in a clever way. A bell shaped crinoline skirt she designed can be seen as an attack on the domineering style of Margaret Thatcher, who had Britain under her thumb. Westwood’s anarchic attitude which existed during her punk days still shines through here. Recently, her return to more traditional themes may look as though the 70 year old punk has softened, but her clothes have a deep, radical core when examined with a close “Vivienne Westwood” savvy eye.