I woke up to the sound of Radio 4. Quite normal for me, but this morning it was James Naughtie interviewing Vivienne Westwood in the tiny town of Hay on Wye. OK the whole thinking talking media is at Hay this week for the Hay Festival but la Westwood too, it was a big rather eccentric treat for me: all the things I love in one three minute waking moment. I felt it was wonderful to be in this quirky country.
I must first say that Vivienne Westwood is my favourite designer of all the designers. I have been meaning to write about designers I like (and maybe I don't like too) and as she was on the radio today, well, it is time to write this post. When did I first get into her? I think I had a 20 year incubation period as I remember the punk era but not VW the name but I do remember when she was on Terry Wogan, I must have been 14 or something. Her model was wearing one of those mini kilts and a fantastically high pair of heels, I think the ones Naomi Campbell fell over in. Then in my mid 20s I had some Italian friends who worked for her. They married each other so there was Vivienne Westwood all over the place. Later I bought a lovely suit for my sister's wedding. That was in 2002 and the joy of VW's clothes is that they don't date because they aren't bleeding edge trend. It's strange because looking at her work at the V&A Vivienne Westwood Exhibition in 2004 so much of her work is so pioneering and contemporary. Some of the looks she developed 20 years ago are so up to date even now. It's like they've entered the fashion currency. At the same time some of it is so impenetrable. Maybe that's the thing. You develop outlandish designs; some of which emerge into the mainstream as directional styles and others are just outlandish and stay like that. Maybe they get picked up 20 years hence and the world is ready for them.
I've bought a few of her pieces every year. The last was a babygro' with "I am not a terrorist. Please don't arrest me," written on it. It was a piece of work she did with Liberty, the Human Rights Organisation. Robbie, the nephew, looks lovely and innocent in it.
So back to la Westwood on the Today Programme. She's written this manifesto . I'd also heard about this manifesto in the Guardian. So, I thought that it was time to read it. I like what she was saying in the interviews about how we are all subject to propaganda and consumerism -- well they are both interconnected. We've lost our values and our appreciation for art and culture and most of what is produced now is rubbish. However, the manifesto itself was not so much about consumerism (which is what I was interested in). It was a rather muddled theory, maybe in the form of an 18th century 'discourse' but with a Surreal kind of film script interpolated with various characters such as Pinocchio, Alice in Wonderland, Aristotle etc. I was like one of her impenetrable dresses. Maybe it will make sense in 20 years but I couldn't really follow it apart from a few isolated concepts such as "A work of art may show us ourself, who we are and our place in the world. It is a mirror which imitates life."
It did endear me to her. It made me wonder if she has anyone around her who says.. "Vivienne, maybe you should put some structure to it. It can't really follow what you're saying." However, I fear that she is such a national treasure that she can do this without anyone really giving any feedback. I do, though, really listen to what she says about consumerism. It's slightly ambiguous in that she sells clothes but I think there is a huge difference between what she sells as genuine fashion: a true form of expression, style and creativity, and the trend-based garbage is on the high street. They are simply a business opportunity that lack the soul of truly original work. It's not about being unique and different; it's about a quality of work and consideration around the whole piece.