Vivienne Westwood: From outsider to subversive insider


Vivienne Westwood has been in the news a lot lately. I have always been rather proud of the fact that we share a birthday, April 8th. This year Dame Vivienne will be turning 70. It’s also 30 years since her first runway show entitled Pirates where she introduced the world to the iconic squiggle print. I visited an exhibition last week at the Fashion Institute of Technology here in New York called Vivienne Westwood: 1980-89. Having seen the huge retrospective at The Victoria & Albert Museum in London back in 2004, I enjoyed honing in on this definitive period of her expansive career.


“She’s a progenitor of a real style we identify as contemporary English fashion,” says Valerie Steele, FIT’s chief curator and director, pointing out the show is not a retrospective of Westwood’s career (the Victoria and Albert Museum did that in 2004), but rather about “drilling down to see what she was doing in the 1980s – because she was so important for the extreme shapes she brought”. That decade was when Westwood entered the fashion establishment. “She came from this anti-fashion stance to then wanting to become a fashion designer but still bring that subversive edge with her,” says Steele.


Curated in collaboration with students from FIT’s Master of Arts programme in fashion and textile studies, the show features some 40 objects that helped define the Westwood aesthetic in the 1980s, from the “pirate” collection (with models clad in oversized puffy shirts, sporting baggy flat-heel boots and henna ringlets), to the “rocking horse” boots from autumn 1986 and the celebrated bra top and skirt from autumn 1982.


As the exhibition shows, this was the pivotal decade in Westwood’s career, one that saw her move from the cover of The Face magazine to the front of British Vogue, from fashion outsider to fashion insider. And similarly, the exhibition itself pivots on a crucial Westwood change in silhouette: the invention of the “mini-crini,” which, in Westwood’s first solo collection following the 1984 departure of Malcolm McLaren, turned the 19th-century cage crinoline hoop skirt into a flirty mini-skirt.

The mini-crini made its debut around the same time as MTV, which changed the landscape of fashion on television, increasing Westwood’s international exposure and enabling her to reach a new generation of savvy street-style followers.




Saturday, April 02, 2011 · Categories: Art and PhotographyFashionMarketing and Advertising
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