Friday, 12 March 2010

Punk Rock Schoolmarm

Oh Dame Vivienne, you've done it again! Vivienne Westwood's most recent collection for Fall/Winter 2010/ 2011 at Paris Fashion Week featured an interesting mix of florals, graphic prints and knee high socks - one part schoolmarm and one part rock n roll. It also had all the signatures of Westwood; yards and yards of beautiful (and indeed costly) fabric in every colour that ever existed, layered on top of one another with clashing patterns and graphics in what at first glance would appear to be a disheveled manner. But if you know Westwood's work, you know nothing is ever unintentional and upon closer inspection, the attention to detail is anything but haphazard.
As with all of Vivienne Westwood's runway shows she shows a playfulness and attitude that many of her contemporaries lack, this time the models had moustaches and wore enourmous brightly coloured crowns. That particular 'punk spirit' has found its way into all of her collections.
Westwood's designs are very much a part of our 'fashion consciousness', and she has continued to stay relevant and inspire others. With her success she has managed to bring punk not just to the mainstream but elevate it to high fashion status. She has been made a Dame, has had a retrospective at the Victoria & Albert Museum, been involved in the Sex and the City film and many a celebrity has walked the red carpet wearing one of her dresses. How did this shocking (and arguably, political) fashion statement become a part of our everyday?
Westwood was once a school teacher ( which might explain the schoolmarm thing) before she began dabbling in clothing design. Her then partner Malcolm McLaren had a stall in the Paradise Garage shop at 430 Kings Road before making the shop his own and changing its name to Let it Rock, and sold Teddy boy clothing, which was going through a revival at the time. Such were McLaren's tendencies to cash in on the latest trends, it wasn’t long after that the shop changed its name to Too Fast to Live Too Young to Die and began selling Westwood's original designs beside rock n roll revival apparel. These early designs were an indication of what was to come, with t-shirts with zippered embellishments and printed with quotes from the manifesto for the Society for Cutting Up Men.
After a trip to New York and a heavy influence from Richard Hell, McLaren and Westwood once again changed the direction of the shop. This time, everything from the previous incarnations of the shop was left in the dust. The SEX shop went through a complete rebirth - now selling bondage gear, whips, leather and kinky lingerie; some of it 'redesigned' with Westwood flourishes.
By this time McLaren had already attempted a reinvention of the New York Dolls, which ultimately did them no favours. Dressing them in full red PVC outfits with Communist touches wasn’t fully taken on by an audience and McLaren had no use for them anymore. This would not be his last foray into band 'management'.
The Sex Pistols had been playing as the Strand when McLaren began acting as their manager. Soon after McLaren, ever the svengali removed Wally Nightingale as frontman and went on the hunt for someone new. What is important to remember is that John Lydon was not chosen by Malcolm McLaren for his vocal prowess but for his fashion sense, specifically his "I hate Pink Floyd" shirt and green hair. The Sex Pistols would be the models used to show some of Vivienne's most interesting creations, and her Situationist inspired politics, to the world. Following their first gig at Saint Martins College the band played all over town and gained quite a following.
As the Sex Pistols grew in notoriety so did SEX and Westwood's designs. Screen printed t shirts with pornography, ripped and burned clothing, tartan trousers with straps and zippers and PVC pockets were becoming a trend on the Kings Road among those who liked their fashion cutting edge and expensive. As a means of both promoting and banking on the Pistols rise to fame the shop began selling various Sex Pistols inspired items, mostly t-shirts with their name and a variety of controversial images. From here, SEX became a very cool place to be. Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders worked there briefly, Glen Matlock - a founding member of the Sex Pistols started out as a shop assistant and Sid Vicious followed in his footsteps (as a shop assistant and then taking over Matlock’s position in the band), as well, Jordan ( aka Pamela Rooke) and anyone else in the Bromley Contingent could be seen in and around the shop.

Westwood and McLaren went on to change the name of the shop once again, this time to Seditionaries. It is this incarnation of the shop that produced some of the most iconic designs and images from the punk era, including the infamous Destroy shirt emblazoned with a swastika and screen-printed t-shirts with the image used for Pistols single 'God Save the Queen' by artist Jamie Reid.
Seditionaries became World's End; as it still is today and Westwood went on to create her first runway show in 1981 with her Pirates collection, leading to yet another new trend in eighteenth century excess called New Romantic. Vivienne Westwood had her first Paris fashion show in 1983. From there Westwood became a bona fide fashion designer, an insider in the world of haute couture and legitimacy even while breaking a number of 'high fashion' rules.
Her collections manage to pull from opposing aesthetics, always rooted in punk with against-the-grain silhouettes, shredded and layered fabrics and fetish inspired studded leather while maintaining a distinctly historical British character with her past and present use of tweeds, tartans and corsets. With a keen eye for a trend and brazenly putting upfront the meaning and inspiration of her garments instead of giving in to subtlety, Vivienne Westwood managed to bring a small sub culture from West London to the high fashion world, making her name synonymous with punk couture.


  1. Modculture

    Found a great fashion and music website -

    Forget Ben Sherman, Lambretta or any other target-covered rubbish from the bargain racks - here are five modern-day labels worthy of a place in any modern-day mod's wardrobe.

    Modern-day mod1. DNA Groove

    Claudio De Rossi has been creating and retailing mod-styled clothing for around 10 years for both men and women - everything from men's shirts, shoes, suits, overcoats and knitwear through to women's casual wear, including knitwear and t-shirts. All items are available online and the ever-growing client list tells you all you need to know about the quality and service.

    Best for: Off-the-peg mod-styled formal wear, including high-collar shirts, suits and coats.


    2. Trimfit

    If you want a vintage-styled shirt made to your measurements, but don't want to pay the earth, you need to check out Trimfit. Owner (and shirtmaker) Lily specialises in reproductions of classic looks and designs, especially from the 50s, 60s and 70s. All are made from your choice of fabric and with all the details you require, from back pleats and contrasting cuffs through to just about any style of collar you can think of. Why buy vintage when you can get a new one exactly the same?

    Best for: Vintage shirt reproductions, including lot classics like the Jon Wood or Brutus Trimfit.


    Dada dresses

    3. Dadadie Brucke

    The price of label vintage dresses continues to rise and the high street retro styles aren't necessarily up to it. Which is where Dadadie Brucke comes in. The work of Jessika Madison-Kennedy, the company takes inspiration from the style and detail of 'high-end vintage' to create something stylish, contemporary, but still unmistakably 1960s in looks. And with limited runs, you're unlikely to see the same thing out and about in your town/city.

    Best for: Bold, 60s-styled dress designs.


    4. Fred Perry

    Yes, one of the old guard makes it onto the list. I'm certainly not a fan of everything the company does, but much of the range stocked in the specialist shops and on the website is well-made and very true to the classic designs of the 60s and early 70s. Just try to avoid those 'designer' collaborations they seem a little too fond of and the budget range you might see on sports shop shelves.

    Best for: Classic polo shirts and v-neck sweaters.


    5. John Smedley

    I had a problem with number five - because there are so many candidates. Just off the top of my head, I can think of the vintage-styled shirts and polos of Aertex, Gabicci's retro range, the classic look of Lacoste, the return to form of Ralph Lauren, budget knitwear and denim from Uniqlo, new French style from APC, Baracuta and Tootal's re-emergence (look out for the latter's forthcoming clothing range), the denim labels and their vintage ranges, the numerous vintage trainer and classic footwear ranges and the endless other labels I've forgotten. In short, we've never had it so good.

    But one label stood out from the rest - John Smedley. Classic knitwear with timeless styles that will look the part this year, next year or indeed any year. This type of high-end knitwear does command a high-end price, but if you box clever and shop at the factory shop, sample sales or your local Boundary Mill shop, you can pick up some of the better designs at very affordable prices.

    Best for: Classic knitwear, especially three-button long sleeve knits.