Dame Vivienne Westwood

Debby Wale is back – with another fantastic blog post about  our Costume Collection at Chelsea Reference Library. Over to Debby….

In my previous blog about Zandra Rhodes (Zandra Rhodes – Unseen (and seen in Vogue and Harpers and Queen) I mentioned I had been to the ‘Club to Catwalk: London Fashion in the 1980s’ exhibition at the V&A Museum.

Zandra Rhodes in The Art of Zandra Rhodes

1977 was the year I became the infamous High Princess of Punk – the darling and the damned of the media, but mostly the latter.  In fact what I was doing wasn’t Punk, but I can’t say that it was that it had nothing to do with it, I called Conceptual Chic – but the press as a voice hailed it as Punk and that’s where it stuck.
It was a journey into London street culture, that’s true,  but as in everything  I do there where many influences at work,  some lurking away in my subconscious, some  staring me in the face,  openly challenging me.

Another of the designers featured in the V&A’s exhibition was Dame Vivienne Westwood, a key figure in the Punk movement. Her partner was Malcolm McLaren, inventor of the Sex Pistols.

From Vogue, August 1987. Article by Liz Jobey

The Queen of the King’s Road arrived on a bicycle. She was wearing a dark grey botany wool twinset with matching sash from her latest collection, a thick cotton knee-length dirndl skirt in red and white, pale grey tights, a pair of square-toed triple tongued grey leather lace-up hip-hop shoes left over from the Hobo year of 1984, and a single string of pearls. She parked under the World’s End clock, it’s backwards whizzing hand stilled before opening time. She was sorry she was late.
Vivienne Westwood, Vogue August 1987
Vivienne Westwood, Vogue August 1987

Shops in King’s Road

A selection of Westwood shops from Vivienne Westwood by Catherine McDermott.

Vivienne Westwood shop fronts taken from Catherine McDermott's book
Vivienne Westwood shop fronts taken from Catherine McDermott’s book

Her first shop was Let It Rock, on the premises of Paradise Garage, further down the King’s Road.

[People] from all over the country, flocked to the shop. In the years that followed, they were replaced by punks fighting for bondage trousers in the mid 1970’s.
Before that it had been Sex, and Too Fast To Live Too Young To Die; after it became World’s End. McLaren had the ideas and Vivienne carried them through.
When she began designing, Westwood adapted existing styles. ‘One day I put a hole for the neck in a T-shirt just here’ – indicating just above the breast – ‘and I knew it would do something with the body in an extremely sexy way. All those ripped things came from picture’s we’d seen of film stars looking really sexy in ripped clothes.
Bondage trousers - image from McDermott's book
Bondage trousers – image from Catherine McDermott’s book

Above images from Harpers & Queens, February 1985

Six years later, in the October 1993 issue of Vogue, we see Queen Viv, (at that time she was an OBE – Westwood advanced to Dame in 2006 by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II) when interviewed by Yvonne Roberts wearing:

check pyjamas, white socks, lots of gold chains, white blonde hair. She has a beautiful unmade-up face, long graceful fingers, pale orange eyebrows like delicate tracks in the desert and smokes enough Gitanes to kill off the entire Foreign Legion.

Way Out West

Queen Viv, Harper's & Queens October 1993
Queen Viv, Harper’s & Queens October 1993

Queen Viv is wearing a full satin skirt, matching fitted jacket, gold and diamante earrings and matching choker.

Shoes by Judith Miller

Her shoes are distinctive, and as well as high heels and platforms her bold imagination reinterprets classic forms. Take, for example, this ghillie – an exaggerated interpretation of a traditional Scottish shoe.
However such style can result in catastrophe – supermodel Naomi Campbell stumbled and fell on the catwalk while modelling a pair of super elevated ghillie platforms with 9-inch heels and 4 inch platforms at Westwood’s 1993 fall-winter Anglomania collection in Paris.
Wearing Vivienne Westwood’s high heels – combined with slippery cream rubber stockings they made this a show to remember.

Vogue August 1987 Classic Good Looks

Westwood is also well known for using classic British fabrics such as Harris Tweed, tartan and Scottish cashmere.

Vivienne Westwood, focussing on the admirably staunch image of the Queen, on Harris Tweed. Velvet collars and princess coats and liberty bodices, allows women to appear both part of tradition and romantically, rather sexily modern.

The author of the article, Georgina Godley, says

‘British women are beginning to see fashion subjectively, not dressing for men anymore, but for themselves and other women. They have been given freedom at last, a passport to doing their own thing.
Vogue, August 1987
Vogue, August 1987

Changing the guard: Vivienne Westwood’s about turn with that traditional British uniform, the suit, throwing a few contemporary curves with peplum and Peter Pan collar, scarlet Harris wool and black velvet, gilt buttons down the back, at World’s End, 430 Kings Road SW10.

Vogue, August 1987
Vogue, August 1987

Switch on traditional country clothes and colours: velvet-collared princess coat, new and not entirely well behaved, in Vivienne Westwood’s russet Harris Tweed, cut short to curve and flare out at the back, the velveteen collar and pockets flecked with Lurex, at Worlds end as before.

Westwood in Vogue, 1980s – 1990s

Looking at Westwood’s coverage in Vogue through the late 80’s and early 90’s, the collections continue to be very British and very sexy.

Further reading

If you want to find out more, Chelsea Reference Library’s fashion and costume collection has the above editions of Vogue and Harpers & Queen and an extensive collection of books.

In the library or the comfort of your own home, with a library card you can access Westwood’s design in the Berg Fashion Library online.

Further reading – all titles can be found in the Costume Collection at Chelsea Reference Library:

  • Vivienne Westwood by Terry Jones
  • Vivienne Westwood by  Linda Watson
  • Vivienne Westwood by Gene Krell
  • Vivienne Westwood by Catherine McDermott
  • Vivienne Westwood (VA) by Claire Wilcox
  • Shoes by Judith Miller
Debby Wale
Debby Wale

Debby Wale, TriBorough Reference Librarian

Chelsea Reference Library