Vivienne Westwood and the V&A
Dame Vivienne Westwood (1941–) played a vital role in the emergence of Punk Rock in the 1970s and has gone on to become one of the most original and influential designers of our time. Fashion, she said, was “a baby I picked up and never put down.”
Her designs combine a fearless nonconformity with a sense of tradition. She is renowned for her gentle parody of Establishment styles, her use of very British fabrics such as Harris Tweed and tartan, and her re-use of historic garments such as the corset and crinoline.
Westwood has spent many hours studying the costumes and paintings in the V&A. Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood’s early ‘Pirate’ collection of 1983 was based on an engraving of a pirate, while she found a pattern for 18th-century men's breeches in the Museum's National Art Library which became the ‘Pirate’ trouser.
Much of her work is rooted in English tailoring and, using traditional techniques as a starting point, she has devised innovative solutions to the puzzle-like complexities of cutting and piercing fabric. Intrigued by the 18th-century ‘sack back’ style, with its pleated train which falls from the shoulders, she has interpreted this in many collections, for both evening and day wear.
Westwood found inspiration in the furniture of Andre Charles Boulle for her ‘Portrait’ collection A/W 1990, creating elegant dresses in black velvet over-printed in gold. She created a silk evening dress based on the 18th-century artist François Boucher’s portrait of Louis XV's mistress, Madame de Pompadour, for her ‘Anglophilia’ collection, recreating the crumpled silk taffeta.
Despite her exactitude, Westwood's creations are never historical facsimiles; “I take something from the past that has a sort of vitality that has never been exploited – like the crinoline – and get very intense. In the end you do something original because you overlay your own ideas.”
This content was originally written in association with the exhibition 'Vivienne Westwood: A Retrospective', on display at the V&A South Kensington 1 April–11 July 2004.