Swimsuit, womens, lycra elastane blend / metal, designed by Vivienne Westwood, England, worn by Natalie Elliott, Australia, c. 1994
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 held 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).
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.
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.
In a conversation with the Curator the donor commented;
"I was sent to Vivienne Westwood's famous shop World's End in the Kings Road in London by a friend of mine when I was 19 and living there for a while. It was 1987. He wanted one of those belts that were very popular in the late 80s that had metallic buckles that had letters in them. While you could buy 'Boy' ones from the shop BOY London, at World's End they custom made them. It was then I was seduced by the clothes that seemed to have no comparison anywhere and the shop that was like something out of an Enid Blyton story with its clock that ran backwards, its tiny size and sloping floors, with walls adorned with bustiers and crinnies and rocking horse shoes. i was quite intimidated but I really was hooked from that first visit and I don't recall having even tried on any clothes. I obviously did get back and the crinnies and Statue of Liberty tops and rocking horse shoes made me feel incredible and did the most dramatic things to my body. I felt and looked different than I ever had.
I came back to Melbourne and moved to St Kilda with a new friend that I had made while working at Galaxy, a clothing shop in Chapel St, South Yarra, run by Sara Thorn and Bruce Slorach who were fashion designers. I went out to night clubs, studied at uni and worked part time. I met my partner at the time, Oleh Witer, at a party on a boat. We were both wearing Westwood, so had at least one thing in common. At the time he was in a band that he started called Big Pig. They had a few hits in the 80s - Hungry Town, Big Hotel and Breakaway that made it as title track of the hit movie Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. Oleh had been wearing Westwood for years, and had some fabulous pieces including some original shoes that Patrick Cox had made for Westwood, an original rope t-shirt and bondage trousers, amongst other things. He and his ex-partner, Jane Francis ("Minnie") had spent a lot of time in London and had had market stalls near Ben Westwood's (Vivenne's son). Oleh had also modelled for Vivienne in the 80s in one of her fashion parades. Minnie ended up working for Vivienne for many years, mainly in accessories and particularly jewellery. She apparently had one of the most incredible collections of pristine Westwood too, that had never been worn. Over the late 80s and early 90s when I was 19 years old to probably around 22-23 years old, I didn't wear anything else, i just couldn't, nothing was quite as avant-garde, attention-grabbing or fun and beautiful to wear. It suited the things I did, and the crowd I hung out with who worked in fashion, music, film and television.
Over this period, I travelled to London a number of times and bought more clothes whilst there, or had clothes sent over. Also, during this time, Vivienne had a major exhibition in Canberra and Oleh and I drove up from Melbourne to see the show and hang out with Ben, his girlfriend, Yasmine, and Minnie who were traveling with Vivienne and Andreas, her husband. We spent a few days with them swimming in their hotel pool, eating bags of cherries from Oleh's parents' tree (they lived in Canberra) and sampling oysters from the NSW south coast which we visited with them. The night before the opening we spent time trying on clothes that they had bought from London, Vivienne choosing outfits for all of us. It was at this time that she gave me the blue rose print swimming costume. The night of the opening I wore a draping toga type dress that was gorgeous, and I didn't get to keep. I was photographed in it and my pic was in Vogue's coverage of the event with a close friend of mine, Matthew Flinn who also wore a lot of Westwood and recently passed away. During this time, there was a tribe of us that all wore Westwood with healthy competition. We were all obsessed and usually wore nothing else. I can't tell you why exactly, but for me, her clothes made me feel special and different from other people, and of course, fashionable but in a way that didn't really follow fashion, that is her clothes felt fashion-forward. I believe Vivienne Westwood is fashion-forward, she is doing her own thing and that most other designers are influenced by her work some time later. Her clothes were sexy and bold, and you had to be brave to wear most of them. They were certainly not for wall flowers, certainly not the ones I generally chose.
My collection of clothes is the best representation of my life at the time I wore them, think the infamous Razor club of Melbourne, the crazy Daisy Chain club in London that Leigh Bowery used to frequent, most commonly in his naked woman outfit or the one with lit lightbulbs on his head, the Kings Road of London with Westwood and Katherine Hamnett, dance music - house and acid, making lavish music videos directed by Richard Lowenstein (Dogs in Space) and Paul Goldman (Australian Rules, new movie (name?) at Cannes at the moment).'