by Jessica Lapidos on
Vivienne Westwood‘s influential existence in the realm of fashion evolved through its powerful early stages between 1980-89. The Museum at FIT has gathered photos, press and groundbreaking garments into an exhibit that opened yesterday that demonstrates her profound effect on the punk revolution, and how she garnered international interest for the London fashion scene. She created by the philosophy, not of change, but rather surprisingly of tradition. It is how she manipulated past traditions to fit the changing times that resonated with so many.
“If you look at any movement… it’s people rejecting what’s just behind them and pulling something out of the past.” – Vivienne Westwood, 1986
At the beginning of her journey into the fashion world, Westwood opened a store with design and business partner, artist Malcom McLaren. Through many incarnations of names, a store called World’s End (with a 13 hour backwards moving clock over the doorway) became the breeding ground for their experiments of unisex clothing inspired by 18th-century men’s undergarments, swashbuckling Pirate-wear and other historically sound yet new-age garb. The photo below was taken in the store, Vivienne on the bottom left, Malcom on the right.
McLaren and Westwood took the anti-establishment of World’s End to the runway. The first look below is a unisex tunic and pants ensemble, which was part of the Pirates collection in 1981. The next is made of sweatshirt fleece supplemented with blouse and baby blanket material. The third look from the Buffalo collection of ’82 is an antique-looking brown satin bra top with a full cotton skirt; the show note went to the tune of Take your mother’s bra and put it over a sweater with a muddy face. The fourth look on the right is a pair of distressed pants suspended by springs “to show the movement”.
The Buffalo collection:
The influence of Vivienne Westwood and Malcom McLaren moved beyond the streets and runways of London and far past the doors of World’s End when musicians got involved. In fact, the Sex Pistols wore their designs back when their brand was still called “Let It Rock”. With the advent of MTV, celebrity fans of World’s End like Boy George and Adam and the Ants became fashion icons before the world on television, in Westwood.
Vivienne Westwood drew great influence from philosopher Bertrand Russell. It is his quote on her shirt, “Orthodoxy is the Grave of Intelligence.”
With that, in 1984 when she and McLaren parted ways due to artistic differences, she went against the grain of the eighties. Where most of the industry was creating silhouettes of power shoulders and boxy suits, she drew from the Victorian era and developed the “mini crini”; a knee length version of the crinoline understructure. She also dipped into the seventies and Japan and pulled out platforms, but gave them a pirouette; the rounded up toe allows for perfect balance on point. Even more radically, she resurrected the corset, bringing it back in a liberating manner for it was no longer required. The quote on this photo reads, “…taking tradition into the future.” – Vivienne Westwood.
Feminizing the Scottish kilt, futurizing the corset and harking menswear back to medieval times, Vivienne Westwood in the late eighties was well on her way to stamping her unique print on fashion. She ended the decade with a bang: November ’89 cover of British Vogue.
More on Vivienne Westwood and the FIT exhibit:
Photography by Tommy Mendes