By Emily Jade Ricalton
In the late evening of March 29th, 55-57 The Hayes, St David’s Centre Vivienne Westwood store turned into a showcase of extravagant and controversial designs as head designer, Harry, described the recent collection to a watching, and certainly overcrowded, audience.
Invited exclusively by the first and only Vivienne Westwood store in the whole of Wales, the large audience had come together for their appreciation of the iconic British designer, who first started her career in fashion within the early 1970s. Vivienne stepped into the fashion industry through her routes and association with the punk subculture. In 1971, Westwood opened up her first shop, ‘SEX’, on Kings Road, London, with her then-husband, Malcom McLaren. McLaren, at the time, was the manager of the outrageous and extremely popular punk band, ‘The Sex Pistols’. This allowed Vivienne to step into the world of anarchy, using clothes to express her liberal, left-wing beliefs against a Thatcher-endorsed society. And, as Harry made obviously clear throughout the duration of his hour talk, is something which still inspires Vivienne’s designs until this very day.
The SS19 collection, which was previewed at the showcase and entered the fashion world in September 2018, was, as Vivienne quotes, inspired by her playing cards – ‘a strategy to save the world, they’re also a map for my fashion designs’. As the Spring/Summer Campaign was displayed in the Welsh store, Harry described this inspiration as being a ‘message of future sustainability’. They are visualised as a message of importance, with each card representing something associated with our modern culture. For example, hearts represent economy and politics, whereas the planet is represented through the symbol of the club. This reoccurring and rather different theme allowed Westwood to represent the considered significant aspects of our world, emphasising that we must save our environment, especially our rainforest, through our social beliefs.
However, this is implied through the whole of Vivienne’s collection. As Westwood is a Greenpeace advocate herself, recently aiming to raise £100 million ($130 million US Dollars) to save the rainforest by the end of the year, the collection was designed around the theme of sustainability. By doing so, the British designer incorporated two key fabrics within the collection – a viscose blend and a hemp cotton blend. This is as well as avoiding cotton mills, helping Westwood to improve the ethical qualities of her designs, humanizing the conditions of animal misconduct and cruelty caused by the fashion industry. This will be further embedded in her next collection, which will be, as Harry told the crowd, inspired by the theme of endangered species.
Nevertheless, the Westwood’s frontman, went on saying that not everything within the collection is organically produced, the cost of many of these organic products can cause garments to have a weaker durability, as well as being more expensive to produce, yet so easily damaged. Having said that, this British fashion house, unlike many others, is one of the most diverse and respectable yet and will continue to promote ethical designs throughout their everlasting collections.
And this is one of the many reasons as to why Harry first adored Westwood herself. He told the crowd during an emotional, yet inspirational speech that he was first mesmerized by Westwood during a GCSE project that he conducted at the minor age of 15. It was here where he first contacted Vivienne, by letter, of course, about her designs. She, being the amazing women she was and still is, then replied; offering the young boy a week’s placement at her head office. From here onwards, Viviene Westwood then personally
invited Harry to one of her shows once his GCSEs had finished, later offering him an internship at the fashion house at the age of just 17-years-old. After spending 4 years at Savile Row, a tailor’s shop
located in Mayfair, London, he was invited back to Westwood’s headquarters. But, this time, he was offered a full-time placement as the head designer of the company. Harry stated that this transition had ‘saved an extremely lost boy who f**ked up his school’.
It is obvious to see that Westwood is a unique woman of her time. And, even Harry had noticed this iconic attribute of her original personality and work. Harry, himself, had been extremely influenced by the history of Westwood’s designs. He had told the audience of fashion-lovers and consumers themselves, that he had wanted to study history at university and that Vivienne was a ‘very historical designer’. For him, the brand takes historical inspirations, in the terms of shapes and fits to specific garments, like the suit or corset, and transforms them into something that Westwood can call her own. Harry calls it ‘classic tailoring with her touch’. Something ambiguous, yet so Vivienne.
As seen in the collection, this is specifically noticeable in the tracksuit design of the Spring/Summer campaign. Harry had stated that the idea of the tracksuit had come from the shape of the basic corset – taking something ever so flattering and sophisticated, and turning it into an everyday outfit choice. Westwood’s attachment to unisex attire is also seen throughout this basic piece. For her, a lot of her work is inspired by the gender fluidity of clothing. Harry said that she uses unisex clothing to add versatility to her designs. She takes something classic and symbolic and turns it into something new, different and highly unique. It allows the 77-year-old designer to be as expressive as she possibly can be.
As the designer relaxes, cracks a joke and grabs his stereotypically British can of beer, he says that brand doesn’t focus on following the latest trends, but is a genuine reflection of Westwood as an artist and fashion influencer herself. Taking influence from original sources, like mood boards and visual images, the brand spends around five hard-working, dedicated and devoted months working on each collection, with men’s tailoring being the start to every inspiration, design and garment made. And, being just 7 months after the release of their SS19 campaign, the brand has already finished their highly anticipated SS20 collection. Something of which will be as undoubtedly controversial and visually interesting as collections we have seen before.