Sometime during the early 90s, I was going on a trip to London and my friend asked me to buy him several pieces from Vivienne Westwood. This was pre-internet days, of course and all I had to go by were sketches of the pieces from the fashion show. I remember going to this glamorous store in Conduit Street, and showing the sketches to the sales associates, and they took one look at each other as if to say, “this guy means business,” and before I knew it I was being ushered to the basement (champagne glass in hand) as they started to show me the show pieces from that season’s collection, and the sketches I brought me came alive in front of my eyes.
That was my first real introduction to Vivienne Westwood, and over the years her presence has been constant in my life because of my friend who only wears her clothes. I know she has an irreverent style and is great with clothing architecture. She is also a character of sorts – weird as only highly artistic people can be. Laura Taylor’s documentary, ‘Westwood: Punk. Icon. Activist,’ barely skims that surface. Westwood here seems cooperative yet unwilling, displaying all the contradictions that make her more interesting. When asked about her involvement with The Sex Pistols, she rolls her eyes and says ‘That’s so boring.’ She is reticent even about Malcom McLaren, her once-partner and as her relationship turned sour, all she can say is “he bored me intellectually.’ (Her sons Joe and Ben are a little more forthcoming) It was fascinating to see her in action – ripping associates over garter bands – and exclaiming ‘this is all shit’ while looking at her collections. I am sure she is a tough woman to work with and for, and we have to give her credit for always sticking to her guns – her house is one of the few who have not been gobbled by a conglomerate, though she says with exasperation that it has grown too big for her britches. In the end, we don’t really see the woman behind the woman, but we understand more because of it. We may never know what makes her an icon, and perhaps we are better off that way.