vivienne westwood lays her cards on the table for autumn/winter 19

The 77-year-old designer’s return to London Fashion Week was less a presentation of clothes, and more a presentation of ideas: an imploration to wake up, woke up, and do something -- anything -- before it’s too late.

by Matthew Whitehouse
|
18 February 2019, 2:51pm

Dame Vivienne Westwood is laying her cards on the table. Literally. And metaphorically. But first literally.

She’s designed a pack of playing cards. In fact, blown-up versions were hanging yesterday, the third day of London Fashion Week, from the walls of St John's Smith Square; a redundant church in the centre of Westminster, where her autumn/winter 19 show was taking place.

The slogans, daubed in red scrawl, will be familiar to anyone with a passing interest in Vivienne’s work over the last few years. She has -- increasingly, invariably -- used her runway shows less as a presentation of clothes, and more as a presentation of ideas: of politics, of heretics, of activist organisations she chooses to lend her name and accompanying weight to. Now here they were again, as playing cards, displayed like Roman banners, with messages such as, “What’s good for the planet is good for the economy” and “Rot$”, the 77-year-old designer’s term for the "Rotten Financial System" (an unholy alliance of banks, corporations and politicians whose job it is to serve the people at the top, while the rest of the world goes to hell in a handcart).

The metaphorical bit comes in when you consider how explicit it all was. Less a fashion show in the traditional sense and more a sort of rotating Speaker’s Corner -- in which various activists and campaigners took to the runway -- you got the impression that this was Vivienne Westwood, sitting in her Battersea studio and thinking, you know what, in 2019, I’m past the point of just knocking out a slogan T-shirt here or there. Dame Viv snapped, as the kids on the internet would have it. And the message has never been clearer.

To that end, you had #MeToo catalyst Rose McGowan calling for more heroes; longtime Westwood muse Sara Stockbridge calling for an end to mass consumption. You had the UK director of Greenpeace, John Sauven, give a brief but memorable talk on the link between powerful conglomerates and the destruction of our planet. There were calls for wealth redistribution, asides on Brexit (a “crime”), and messages of sustainability delivered by her in-house activist group Intellectuals Unite (messages backed up by the fact that a couple of the early looks were, to our eyes, recycled from previous collections). What sounds like a scattered approach to campaigning was actually relatively simple: the takeaway was wake up, woke up, and do something -- anything -- before it’s too late.

So, what of the clothes? Well, they were fucking excellent, as they always are. We loved the highly desirable coloured leggings; the frankly peerless suiting; and the footwear, cheekily emblazoned with “I <3 CRAP”. But there’s always been more to Westwood than clothes. No one knows it better than the woman herself.

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