Vest, with detachable 'Armour' sleeves, men's, wool/rayon, 'Time Machine' collection, Autumn/Winter 1988, Vivienne Westwood, England, 1988
At the time of this acquisition, Vivienne Westwood is regarded as the doyenne of British fashion. Controversial, acclaimed, eccentric, classic, punk, confronting and essentially British all describe Westwood's work. Opening a shop at 430 King's Road Chelsea, London with then partner Malcolm McClaren in 1971, Westwood sold her own designs through this shop, later called the World's End. Her early work of the 1970s harked back to fifties classic fashion at a time when hippy ideas were dominating fashion. Her work became increasingly associated with and inspired by the punk movement, epitomised by her relationship, through McClaren, with the punk rockers, the Sex Pistols, who first performed in 1976. She became their costume designer. Gene Krell describes Westwood as 'punk's prototype and greatest showpiece.' After punk, her interests became more historical, adapting and reinterpreting materials and designs into her own style.
Her style is individualistic and can push the boundaries of acceptability. While her range is extremely wide, her clothes bear her signature emphasis on intricate craftsmanship. Her work draws from a wide range of influences, particularly historical periods and collections, like the Wallace Collection. In 2004, the Victoria and Albert Museum will hold a major retrospective of her work. Each collection has a theme and title. She produces a range of collections twice a year, currently: gold label, red label, man and anglomania. Her range of accessories is extensive: bags, women's and men's shoes, jewellery and two lines of perfumes (Boudoir and Libertine). This piece was from a collection called 'Time Machine', indicating the strong historical provenances of the ideas for this work. It suggests transporting history into the present, into current and vital fashion.
Her works promote a sumptuous and glamorous yet rebellious and challenging take on British identity, gender and politics. She said 'I am English, and I parody the English, with the hope that my clothing will have a international significance.' At the forefront of the Blair government-backed Cool Britannia, she is, unlike many of her younger and successful British colleagues who design for French and Italian houses, British-based. She is celebrated in Britain and has been named British Designer of the Year in 1990 and 1991. A major exhibition held at the Museum of London considered various pieces drawn from the collection of Romilly McAlpine, wife of Lord McAlpine. The accompanying book includes interviews with wearers of Westwood and those who work for her, making her designs.
The significance of this piece to the Powerhouse collection is that it is an example of Westwood's essentially historical approach to design. As a reinterpretation of the use of armour and cricket blazers as fashion, it is an iconic and easily recognisable piece from her design studio. This jacket was purchased by Jac Vidgen, currently based in Thailand, from Westwood's King's Road, Chelsea shop in September 1988. It was worn by both Vidgen and his then partner. They often wore it with a pair of khaki Gaultier Junior "baseball shorts", which were purchased at that time. It was also worn with a fake very large black vinyl Gaultier cap. It was worn to RAT and dance parties in Sydney, with both sleeves, only one sleeve or with none.
Vidgen notes that it was unique in Sydney at the time and that he remembered seeing a black leather version of it on the cover of a "Soul to Soul" album from the time. It was lent to the Powerhouse Museum, where it was displayed in the "Fruits" exhibition, representing Tokyo Street Style, as Westwood is popular in Japan.
Westwood is sold through David Jones Limited in Sydney, but there is no retail shop in Australia.
1.Gene Krell, Vivienne Westwood (London: Thames and Hudson, 1997) p.13.
2. Westwood in Paris Match, 12 May 1997 in Kevin Davey, English Imaginaries: Vivienne Westwood: the shadow monarch viewed 18/11/03 at http://www.l-w-bks.co.uk/titles/archive/westwood.html
Researched and written by Susannah Helman (volunteer supervised by Louise Mitchell, curator, 25/11/2003)
Extract from Davey, Kevin. English Imaginaries: Vivienne Westwood: the shadow monarch. ISBN 0853158681
Krell, Gene. Vivienne Westwood London: Thames and Hudson, 1997.
The Museum of London, Vivienne Westwood: a London Fashion. London: Philip Wilson Publishers, 2000.
Vermorel, Fred. Fashion & Perversity: a life of Vivienne Westwood and the sixties laid bare. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 1996.