Vivienne Westwood


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My short research about Vivienne Westwood for my COFA course Fashion and Costume Design S1 2008

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Vivienne Westwood

  1. 2. Vivienne Westwood, born in England, was one half of a partnership that created Punk Rock, an era that influenced and changed the way of thinking throughout the world. Obsessed with elements that some believes only an English can; cloths, sex and the Queen, Westwood's unwillingness to conform is clearly displayed through the formation of Punk Rock, a 'cult' of her own that centralizes on the idea of rebellion. However, she broke her ties with Punk Rock when it became 'dull' and the social attitude of Punk changed into something she did not want conform to. Not one to sit on the sidelines, she reinvented herself as a fashion designer with a deconstructivist approach and altered the way fashion is perceived throughout the world. Her lack of training allowed for more creativity and freedom, and gave her the tools to cut through the barriers of conventional fashion design that makes her avant-garde.
  2. 4. The Punk Rock Era Westwood’s shop with her then partner dictated what punk fashion was. It was an act of rebellion against the society they lived in. Let It Rock held clothes that were not designed, as no concern was placed in regards to the rules and regulations that surround clothes making. Rather, the outfits were put together according to what seemed right, and what will ensure the most outrage. This resulted in the innovative use of what is considered trashy and tasteless; leather, PVC and leopard skin print. The motif of rebellion, sex and sexual confrontation, meant ensembles were all tight, dark and aggressive, compositions of leather and chains, rubber-wear, bondage gear and anything with safety pins, zippers and straps. T-shirts printed with pornographic images were also popular, and anything that was meant to be left in one’s fantasy, or at least their bedroom, was worn on the streets. Though the shop underwent numerous name changes; Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die ; Sex ; Seditionaries ; World’s End ; the underlying message of their disregard in people’s morality and taste remained and strengthened, as did the clothing that created the blatantly provocative forms.
  3. 5. Above shows a prototype of the bondage jacket. Made with black sateen to give a shiny appearance, the slightly off-centre metal zipper draws the eye down the length of the torso. The movement of the eye however is interrupted numerous times by ‘bondage’ straps, wrapping around the torso, arms and back. A pair of bondage trousers is shown on the right. Baggy at the bum, the legs narrow down to the ankles, giving the appearance of a longer form. Whilst the metal zipper on the back of the legs further lengthens, the strap around the knees, which continues the ‘bondage’ theme, provides balance.
  4. 6. The Artificial Bust and Bum Forms were highlighted with the Mini Crini [1985] collection. Busts and bums were exaggeratedly enhanced, but unlike the present day surgical procedures, these artifices came only from the majestic mouldings of clothing. The Mini Crini collection produced the Stature of Liberty corset. Traditionally a type of undergarment, this corset pushed ones bosoms up and clinched in their waist, and is stylishly worn as an outerwear with a newly designed ‘mini crini’, a short swinging crinoline skirt, ‘criniscule’ or puffball skirt, drawing the attention to the hips. The overall look was an astonishing hourglass silhouette emphasising on the small waist. Westwood likes to play around with the human form, whether it was emphasising the bum with a new interpretation of a bustle, or enhancing the cleavage with a cleverly designed ready-to-wear corset top. However, she never strays far from the classic proportions of English tailoring, and enhances these with some of her own, such as the grouping of princess line shirts and jackets with a crini. Her understanding of fabrics and technique allowed her to produce sculptural forms only possible through the intense study and new interpretations of historical dress and pattern making.
  5. 7. The Mini Crini collection showed short crinoline skirts worn with a tailored jacket and top. Although it does not display a woman’s curvy form as well as a corset, the overall setup takes a more street-friendly, ready-to-wear approach in creating the hourglass silhouette. The heavier fabric of the blazer is printed with vertical strips, highlighting the exquisite tailoring to a woman’s body, especially the curve of the waist. The lightness of the fabric from which the crinoline is made from, along with the gathering at each hoop, creates a balance with the heavy jacket to create a stable hourglass form.
  6. 8. The English Designer A designer must always reinvent themselves. After the Punk era, Westwood decided to practise as a fashion designer. Although her first few collections Pirates , Savage , Nostalgia of Mud established her as a designer that is capable beyond ‘Punk’, it wasn’t until her Harris Tweed [1987] collection that saw Westwood return to the London catwalk and established her as an English designer. In these collections, she embodied herself with traditional English cloths that she considers ‘hold a great charge of content’. The concoction of the English cloths; wool, tartan and tweed, stood out on the catwalk. The chosen combination of fabrics and their colour provoked associations with traditional and cultural uses of these fabrics, i.e. the association of red barathea with fox-hunting and the connection between maroon melton with school boy blazers. Despite the use of traditional cloths, there is nothing conventional about her designs. These cloths are accompanied with new interpretations, along with great gashes and slashes, and vividly coloured linings that contrasts with the heavy fabrics. These fabrics merged exceedingly well with one of her major influences, the Queen. She is inspired by the time when the Queen was a teenager and always believed that the Queen was avant-garde in fashion. The result was clean princess lines coats and jackets teamed with twin-sets, ready-to-wear corsets and ‘criniscule’ that embodies the Harris Tweed collection.
  7. 9. The statue of liberty and crini ensemble is made from heavy maroon velvet. The corset is similar to the long-waisted corset from the 1700s. The top-stitching for the boning and busk draws the eye along the torso to the hips. The triangular form of the corset and the heavy gathering of the skirt highlight the small, clinched waist. The gathers stretched out with each hoop to form the curve of the skirt and hips. With the bosoms pushed up to create an ample cleavage, the design emphasises the curvy form of the wearer and the hourglass silhouette is creates.
  8. 10. Charm and Naive Sexuality The Portrait [1990] collection revolved around the flirtation of French eighteenth and nineteenth century, with historical dress elements that Westwood sees with potential and ability to be reinvented. However, Westwood surprised the world with the Vive la Bagatelle [1997] collection, a flirty, romantic Baroque collection that was filled with hourglass silhouettes without the artificial bust and bum that Westwood is known for. This evolution came about through Westwood’s idea of Pageantry- the civilised societies that was the classical Greece and Rome, where opinions and ideas are made from facts, unlike the society we live in, which she believed is not civilised. This idea is spoken through her designs by the use of drapery, a reference to the dress in the classical periods. It is also a technique she believes is used when one wants to ennoble themselves, and appear more passionate, in reference to classical paintings. Her unique technique in her manipulation of fabrics allows her clothes to manipulate and change the silhouette of the wearer. These more subtle forms continue to linger in her collections today.
  9. 11. One of the designs in Vive la Bagatelle [above left] incorporates a scoop-neck waistcoat top and a pencil skirt. The waistcoat is extremely tight at the waist and as a light material is used, the fall of the material from the shoulder to the waist creates lines that draw the viewer to the slim waist. The V at the bottom of the waistcoat is connected with a pleated flap, drawing attention to the hips, further emphasising the trim waist of the hourglass silhouette. Similar technique is used in creating the dress from the Nymph collection [above right]. Instead of a waistcoat, bias cut panels forms the scoop-neck top which is pulled in at the waist with a thick patent belt and flares out with a full skirt, creating a womanly form.
  10. 13. Vivienne Westwood Her clothes are designed for one to dress for themselves. Her designs are not about trend, but the attitude it creates for the wear. The woman Westwood creates has changed through time, from the audacious, blatantly provocative and sexual, to an elegant woman who is charming and sexy, flirty and feminine. This change demonstrates Westwood’s true understanding of the female form, from both the woman’s eyes as well as from the men’s perspective, making her designs avant-garde yet timeless.
  11. 14. Bibliography *Krell, G 1997, Vivienne Westwood , Thames and Hudson Ltd, London. *Mulvagh, J 1998, Vivienne Westwood: An Unfashionable Life , HarperCollins Publisher, London. *Museum of London 2000, Vivienne Westwood: A London Fashion , Philip Wilson Publishers Ltd, London. *Sims, J 1999, Rock Fashion , Omnibus Press, London. *The South Bank Show: Vivienne Westwood , 1990, Video, Marcom Project, Queensland. *2008, Vivienne Westwood, London, viewed 27 March 2008, <> *2008, Vivienne Westwood: 34Years in Fashion , National Gallery of Australia, viewed 27 March 2008, <>