This is a pretty cool sight isn’t it? It’s the stage in the main hall at Chelsea Town Hall and as you can see, it was jam packed with fashionistas wanting to hear tales from the front row of the fashion world and more besides.
But let’s get one thing straight; sadly, those chairs were not waiting for me to be in conversation with our grand dame of fashion; it was in fact Guardian journalist, Deborah Orr. And even more sadly, she wasn’t the greatest of interviewers (at one point she even looked like she might be nodding off). I definitely could have done it better myself…but I digress.
Feminist icon, female entrepreneur and keeper of the zeitgeist, she has shocked and appalled her way in equal measure to the top of the British culture ladder. Ironically, her global brand status makes her part of the very same establishment the iconoclastic, nihilist punk movement wanted to tear down. But hey, that’s just how it goes right? The shock of the new soon fades, unless you are touched by the genius of reinvention that keeps you current and of the moment. And that she most definitely is.
Dame Vivienne Westwood, an enduring feature of all our lives, is one of our biggest exports and stalwarts alongside Marmite, Earl Grey and Wedgewood (well I think so anyway). I went to one of her Christmas parties once; it was literally a riot and I can tell you now, she wears a kilt like a man (say no more!). So back to the night in question. We assembled to hear, quite simply, her story. She wasn’t disappointing either.
First she gave us a quick tour of her outfit; her earrings were third generation so beyond vintage, the necklace was given to her by a student and made of conkers, the knitted dress was a favourite (it apparently looks much better on Stella Tennant so she says), her woolly, knee length socks were embellished with a primitive male shape and she described her shoes as puritanical. She also reflected on her hair and how it was a statement for these times; short and abrasive with not an inch to spare. Both intriguing and eccentric at once, it was fascinating to hear her speak about her beginnings in needle craft at home in Glossop, before heading to London and becoming the seamstress of punk under the guidance of Malcolm McLaren.
Rather than treat us to a chronology of her life, she went large on the climate change campaign she is very passionate about. It was then that she became rather gauche and at times faintly comical; I was impressed that she could hold an audience while being so wilfully naive. She had left us all photocopied A4 sheets on our chairs and told us to pick them up. It was an old school pamphlet with her treatise on and an image on the front. It was a world map that illustrates how rising temperatures will make most of the planet uninhabitable. I was gobsmacked when she said she had coloured in parts of it because she didn’t like the blue and yellow lines on the original. Next she also threw in that it would ‘only take another £99 million to save the Rain Forest’, on top of the £1 million she had already given. I fully expected to be shaken down and asked for diamonds and cheques as we left. There was no dandy highwayman in sight fortunately.
I’m thoroughly enjoying the book she was promoting by the way; it’s co-written by Ian Kelly who is a great writer and very conversational in style. There are some really cool photos scattered through the piece. I’m going to read up a bit more on her brand of activism which is a mix of environmentalism and anti-capitalist thought leadership. Perhaps without sitting in such an opulent setting, with a snoozy host and a glass of wine in my hand, I might not feel like such a skeptic. I’m sure I’m not the only person there that evening that was confounded by the bundle of contradictions on the table.
You can buy the book everywhere and on the link below; I paid the full cover price of £25 on the night, so let’s hope some of that will be spent on saving the rain forests and ending, ahem, capitalism…
Explore her world by visiting