vivienne westwood and andreas kronthaler are using creativity to save the world
We discuss fashion, activism, and changing the world with the beloved husband and wife design duo. The message today is SWITCH! There's never been a better time.
Vivienne wears dress Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood autumn/winter 17. Crown Vivienne Westwood autumn/winter 17 ecotricity. Shoes Vivienne Westwood archive. Andreas wears hat, skirt and boots Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood. Trousers Andreas' own.
"Now then," begins Vivienne, her still-thick Derbyshire accent punctuated only by mouthfuls of salad. "You know my map? My red and green map? It's the best thing I've ever done." We're sitting around the dining table of photographer Tim Walker's Bethnal Green studio and the woman who gave the world Seditionaries, Punkature and Mini-Crini is explaining that her greatest achievement has been, well, none of those things, but a small map highlighting which areas of the earth will become uninhabitable if estimated temperature rises are correct. You have to admire the indefatigability of it all.
The message is - if you haven't heard - switch. Switch to green energy. Switch from one of the Big Six Energy Suppliers. Switch the way you think, consume, live. It's a continuation of work that began, in part in 2005, when Vivienne stumbled across an interview with environmentalist James Lovelock who claimed that by the end of the century there would be only a billion people left due to global warming. The sheer horror of the image - families on the move, struggling to find food - spurred the designer into action. Since then, a belief in learning and culture, combined with a disdain for wholesale consumption, has been a recurring theme of all Dame Viv's collections. In fact, you get the impression it's the only thing that keeps her stimulated about fashion at all. "That's what I call creative," says Vivienne, if not the most famous 75-year-old English woman on the planet, then certainly the most visible 75-year-old still campaigning for radical change. "Trying to communicate through something representative - an imitation of reality - that's what art is. That's how we understand the world. Otherwise, we wouldn't be able to know what's going on anymore than through intuition, like the animals. I think it's the most creative thing I've ever done."
Vivienne's joined today, as she has been for the past twenty-five years, by husband Andreas Kronthaler. Both co-designer and creative director of the brand, Andreas is much more part of the Vivienne Westwood story than say, Harris Tweed ever was (a solitary collection back in 1987) or punk was (a couple of years at its safety-pinned-apex). You get the impression he was somewhat relieved for her to be the better known of the pair, regardless of what his often fantastical dress sense may have suggested. But since a restructuring saw the former Vivienne Westwood Gold Label renamed Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood back in February, the handsome Tyrol native has been thrust into the spotlight, something his importance to the brand demands. "For sure, it's an important part of life, creativity or art or whatever it's called," he muses in singsong Austrian syncopation. "It's part of life, as necessary as anything else."
With Vivienne increasingly using activism as a means of talking, through both her collections and outlets such as the brand's Climate Revolution wing, Andreas prefers to use design as a vehicle for examining his own place in the world. "I'm questioning everything that I do," he says. "Do we need another pair of trousers like this? Or another dress like that? Does the world really need that?" ("Well, I say 'no'!" chimes Vivienne emphatically). He caveats, "If I really thought about it and decided it means something. It means something to me. It's something that I think is making the world a better place or a prettier place, then I'm okay with it. But I'm questioning things like this. And I think that's what a lot of people are doing." The pair both see the parallels between the creativity of now and that of the 30s, when the economic and social insecurity of the interwar years lead to spike in innovation; airplanes, automobiles, The Bauhaus, the Wiener Werkstätten. "It was an incredibly intense time," describes Andreas. "In Europe at least. Very extreme development. And maybe we are at a place like this now. Politically it seems a bit similar. You've got these two sides and it's all going that way."
For Vivienne, the only way to move forward is to break out of what she calls 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. She has a target of half the country switching to green energy in the next five years - something she believes could send a stronger anti-establishment message than voting - and has already begun to view her brand's seasonal fashion shows as exercises in protest as opposed to just sales (January's fall/winter 17 event was named after green energy supplier Ecotricity). "It would really give the people power," she explains. "That's why we wore crowns in the last one. On the first crown I wrote, "Who are our rulers?" and the point is we are our rulers. It's only a paper crown but if each of us wears one it means, you know, I'm ruling the world!" It's only when you look back through Vivienne's early decades of activism and fashion - rebelling through clothes at 430 Kings Road; plundering history for the Pirates collection; quietly shaping what would later evolve into the Climate Revolution project - that you realize her reasons for doing anything throughout life are just the same now as they were then: she wants to understand the world for its own sake and use that knowledge to make things better, no matter how heretical it may sound.
"If people really want to be creative, they should read a book, they should go for a walk in the countryside and try to find out the names of what some of the trees are," she says. "Start to try to understand the past. And if you do that you will start to follow your deep interest. You may not know what it is right now but you will discover it." Who knows, it might even be the best thing you've ever done.
Text Matthew Whitehouse
Photography Tim Walker
Grooming Rozelle Parry at Le Management. Vivienne and Andreas wear all clothing and accessories Vivienne Westwood autumn/winter 17.