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Vivienne Westwood at the V&A
by Hannah Hayward

To be honest before I went to Vivienne Westwood’s retrospective at the V&A I was unsure what I thought of her. I was confused as to how one half of Punks most famous couple, the other of course being Malcolm Mclaren, could go from such subversive, anti-establishment beginnings to becoming the bell of the establishments ball. What happened between the ripped T-shirts and bondage trousers and the ball-gowns and famous supper models? Well Westwood’s retrospective had the answers.

The exhibition was divided into two large rooms and was clearly focused on Westwood’s work as a designer rather than Westwood the person. With punk music appropriately blaring out as you wondered around her various creations I felt an overwhelming urge to go home and customise some of my own clothing. The items were witty and crude all in one go and the simplicity of many of the designs did make you feel that fashion could be for any person and any pocket size.

Her pirate collection, 1980-81, saw the beginnings of a more tailored looked. Where as before elastic, buttons and buckles had been used, basic tailoring was coming in to play with darts, collars and cuffs. Her crinoline skirts, one of Westwood’s earliest references to British history, showed the designers increasing technical knowledge without her losing any of the fun. The backdrop to all this was a huge projection of various catwalk shows montage together showing how the clothing actually moves. The squeezing of the crinoline only to pop back into shape – just what you need on a crowed tube.

Entering the second room there is a sudden change of atmosphere. The music dramatically different, classical, not punk, the clothing, highly tailored, complex and rich in history. What is striking is the direct link from Westwood’s inspiration to final product, an almost photographic copy at times.

Highly tailored tweed jackets with fur trimmings show Westwood’s unique understanding of inherently British clothing. Bodices and evening wear mix with ripped fabric and rope belts. Grey and black tailored ‘office wear’ display Westwood’s astonishing self-taught fabric cutting knowledge. And of course the classic evening dress tied onto the body bringing back the idea of bondage. And here lies the answer to my confusion, it’s not that Westwood has gone from anti-establishment to establishment at all, she had simply gone from distorting it from the outside to distorting it from the inside and best thing about a retrospective is the way it can explain change and development through out a creatives life coherently. Suddenly the punk clothing seemed a close relative of the evening wear. Perhaps their even sisters.

Photography allowed.
Nearest Tube: South Kensington

by Hannah Hayward


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