Photo by Katherine Rountree
Written by Charlytte Morrone and Ysabel Cacho
It’s no wonder that Dame Vivienne Westwood, sometimes called the “queen of punk” in the fashion industry, uses fashion to talk about other things. For her, fashion is a platform to raise awareness about the causes she cares deeply about such as climate control, culture and the government. “I use my ideas and slogans and graphics; I use my job to open my mouth and talk about it,” she said.
If students want to incorporate these movements in their fashion, she advised them to “first become an activist, be around other activists and inform yourself before you apply it to your work.”
When Westwood received the André Leon Talley Lifetime Achievement Award at the Trustees Theater, she said she started out as a punk rather than a designer. It’s one of the main reasons why her designs stand out on the red carpet. “I never participated in a fashion trend,” she said. “I always invented the trend. I never knew what other people were doing.”
Her inspiration and ideas “come from a lifetime of experiences, from looking at things and following your deepest interests.” One of those interests is culture, which she describes as “the best that’s ever been thought or said or shown.” She also quoted a French expression, “The best is the enemy of the good.” She explained that people are no longer interested in the good once they’ve experienced the best.
She talked about “cultivating your [own] taste,” especially through painting. As a teacher she used to send her students to art galleries and would ask them, “If a fire bell went off, which picture would you choose to save?”
“If you kept going in six months time, your taste would change,” she said. “You start seeing something else. You are cultivating your taste. You are developing.”
She also advised students to copy. “You will soon find out if you are able to become a designer if you manage to get near to copying something,” Westwood said. “That is how you discover everything.”
Her husband — Andreas Kronthaler — added, “[Copying] is how anybody ever learned to do something.”
But while students are developing their taste, they can still hit roadblocks. Kronthaler advised them not to be so fixed on an idea. “Maybe choose another direction.” He added that “every day is full of roadblocks.” When he is faced with those problems, he said he goes for a walk at a nearby park.
“Walking clears my mind and makes me think,” he said. “It gives me clarity to my thoughts… I think walking is great medicine. I would suggest this even to young people. Just leave it, go and have a walk, and then come back to it later or tomorrow. You will see it differently.”
Westwood and Kronthaler are looking forward to tonight’s fashion show to see students’ taste. This is the first time both of them will attend the show. When asked what she will be looking for at the fashion show, Westwood said that she cannot stand the phrase “something different” because it’s “so boring.”
“If you are searching for something different, you will never find it,” she said. “It will happen when you’re not searching for it. It will only happen when you are following your deep interests. That’s when exciting experiences will happen.”