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.
Nearest Tube: South Kensington