Disclaimer: some of my expressions and statements below reflect my feelings and views as a new fashion student at University of the Arts London in 2004.
Vivienne Westwood’s origins
Vivienne Isabel Swire was born in Glossopdale, Derbyshire, on 8th April 1941. Her mother was a weaver and her father came from a family of shoemakers. In 1957 she moved with her family to London, aged 17. In 1962 she married Derek Westwood and became a primary-school teacher in Willesden, North London. Vivienne Westwood has two sons, Benjamin Arthur Westwood and Joseph Ferdinand Corre.
Leaving grammar school at 16, Vivienne briefly attended Harrow Art College. She studied fashion and silversmithing, but left after a term. She never finished her training but even so she became a successful designer. This tells me that even if I am not the best in my class at London College of Fashion, I can still succeed with my own ideas and creations through hard work, encouragement and those who help! This paper is about Vivienne Westwood’s journey from the past to the present and her success.
What does success means for Vivienne Westwood?
What does success mean for most people? For many it means a good income, nice houses, good cars a posh office and a top lifestyle in every way. But at the beginning that was not the main influence or goal for Vivienne Westwood. Up to 1992 she lived hand to mouth with little income and in a council flat in South London. For her success means being unconventional – different, original, provocative. Her studio is dirty and disorganized and punk provoked.
Success for her also means being known. Italian Vogue has been consistently fascinated by her work and she gets more publicity from scandals. She uses shock around incest and taboos: she like to explore unusual things and put them in her creations, to seduce the public into revolt. Westwood was obsessed with it: “All the clothes I wore people would regard as shocking, I wore them because I just thought that I looked like a princess from another planet.”
Vivienne Westwood’s interest in taboos comes from being English and would make no sense if she was from, say, the Czech Republic where people would view her work in a completely different way. She could only come from a society that is based in tradition and class, but has pride in tolerance and non-conformity. In the Czech Republic there is no class system and Royal Family to laugh at: Vivienne Westwood needs a public that can see irony.
This affected me personally when I read a book about British fashion designers and models. I liked lots of it but there was one designer and some models that were so different. And this was Westwood and here selection of models. They looked ugly and strange to me. It was my first shocking experience with Westwood and her designs in my life. I found her old and she looked like a witch. The designs looked dirty and old-fashioned to me. Instead of making people look tall and thin she makes them look rounded, even chubby.
Her clothes were never cheap, but the Punks copied them and the look spread fast. It provoked disapproval and is still seen today. Westwood viewed it as “a heroic attempt to confront the older generation”, but generally it was absorbed by people. Westwood, since her forties, has continuously done the same act until now, with a move from street fashion to high fashion, inspired by history and theatre but with the same irony.
Vivienne Westwood today
She loves being with young people. She remains emotionally engaged with the young, and shares their passion for some of the major political debates of the day. While most of us grow out of “It’s not fair” Vivienne continues to feel linked to problems in society.
What is most unusual and admirable about Vivienne Westwood is that, well in her seventh decade, she continues to question and to create. Getting old has not changed her attitude to creativity.
What I have learned from Vivienne Westwood.
She is different to me: she provokes other people, is different and weird, while I please other people and am for the establishment. Westwood’s clothes are interesting, not always beautiful or well fitted with what are to me strange combinations of fabrics and colours. But she has inspired me in many ways. She has never given up!!! She has always worked hard. She has never changed her way of living. I like her strong attitude. I like the way she started. As a teenager she said that she could never be a designer and left college and then, later on, she became one of the heroes among designers of 20th century.
I visited Vivienne Westwood’s shop on the King’s Road – “The World’s End” - , which was the first shop she has ever had.
The shop has small windows and very low entrance door. I could hardly get through. The interior is tiny with a low ceiling and a sloped decking floor. The walls are painted green. There were only a few things on display: women’s wear, men’s wear, shoes, accessories and some jewelry. The fascia has a drooping slate gable and a large clock displaying 13 hours, the hands traveling rapidly back in time. I asked the shop assistant her opinion, how it feels to be working in Vivienne Westwood’s shop. The answer was, “Relaxed and nice”.
Another shop, which is based in Davies Street, has a completely different atmosphere. The shop windows are large with several mannequins. It has two floors. The women’s wear and accessories are directly on the entrance floor and the men’s wear downstairs. The walls are decorated with huge photographs of Westwood and some models and some of her garments are put in frames on the walls as pictures. I found it very interesting and inspiring.
My first feeling about the quality of her clothes was a bit disappointing. It looks cheap and second-hand. But despite this, Vivienne made me think about fashion and designing in a different and more open and experimental way. The clothes were generally very amusing and wearable and even though I do not share the same style as Westwood I could easily choose several pieces. I saw that everything does not have to be very neat and clean to create an original and new effect.