Tuesday, October 11, 2005

vivienne westwood

I've got such huge respect for so much of what Vivienne Westwood is and has achieved.

Oh come on, it's just clothes, no sensible person is interested in clothes are they?

If you think that, try going about your day dressed in rubber shorts and your gran's nightie, see if you feel any different and if any of your not-judging-anyone-by-their-appearance friends treat you any different.

When Frank Zappa got some US Marines to dismember a doll on stage, one of the audience shouted 'get those uniforms off the stage'. Zappa replied, 'Everybody in this room is wearing a uniform,and don't you forget it.'

I will be at the front of the queue to agree that fashion obsession is a substitute for having a meaningful focus of attention and that most of what goes on in the world of fashion and textiles is not only meaningless, irrelevant snobbery but incredibly dull-witted too, but that doesn't mean great work and ideas don't come out of it. By the same token, car design doesn't really interest most of us but it takes a measly mind to deny the genius of Alec Issigonis.

For as long as she's been doing it, Westwood has been the most radical prominent thinker in her chosen profession, using her work and position to challenge preconceptions, to be bold and dare us to be equally bold, simultaneously showing up the lavishly praised small minds that saturate the field.

Like Brian Eno she is unashamed of her clear English voice, that slightly posh tone that is actually a declaration of her unpretentiousness, neither aspiring to the aristocratic, nor pretending to be street. It declares an authenticity and honesty in what she says, at least inasmuch as she really means it when she says it.

But every time she does something that amazes, she then does something really stupid to utterly deflate it. It's rather like Prince Philip serving a term as president of WWF whilst being a big hunter: build 'em up then shoot 'em down.

I suspect I like Vivienne Westwood more than she deserves, like someone trying to hold on to their respect for Eno if he suddenly started managing boy bands.

At the unveiling of her autumn/winter 2005 collection, her show notes for the audience said 'The more you consume the less you think'.

What a great slogan, and it's double-plus-great to be saying it to the vacuous superficial style-twats who will have made up a clear majority of the audience.

Unfortunately, it's a tad rich coming from a woman who was in the process of launching her Hardcore Diamonds range of expensive jewellery. She says that the range - featuring £10,000 necklaces and, oh how punk, £400 diamond encrusted safety pins - is 'affordable'.

Hypocrisy isn't a bad thing in itself, but this totally unjoined thinking is impossible to swallow, even for someone like me who really wants to like Westwood.

Of course, wildness of ideas and unpredictable changing of position is common in creative minds, but for some reason if it's a creative woman - think not only Westwood but Bjork and Sinead O'Connor - then rather than point out the inconsistency we tend to dismiss them as hatstand, no matter how great their good work is.

But anyway, in an interview with The Independent last month, Westwood said

The world suffers from three evils: nationalism, which has taken the place of religion; organised lying; and non-stop distraction. The most pernicious of these is non-stop distraction. These three things can be summed up in one word: propaganda.

I want to say to young people that every time you look up a word in the dictionary you are changing the world. Propaganda is about manipulating words and using big, abstract terms to affect people emotionally. Propaganda subverts language. If you look up a word in the dictionary, not only do you start to think more but you are actually fighting propaganda because you are finding out what these words have meant in the past and what they in fact still mean.

Great stuff again. And how does she manifest her avowed wish to see us think for ourselves?

When France had a referendum on the EU Constitution in May, Vivenne was lending her support to the Vote Yes campaign with a stirring appeal to the electorate's powers of intellectual appraisal.

'Don’t bore yourself reading all 800 pages and just vote “yes”. It’s very important,' she said.

The European Union is an idea at odds with itself, so much so that to simply say yes or no to the Constitution is to misunderstand it. Paradoxically, to say 'yes' or 'no' to the constitution is to say yes and no to your ideals, whereas saying 'yes and no' to it is the only consistent position.

But to declare that others should do so too without even knowing what they're saying yes to is to manage the impressive feat of being even more absurd than the yes/no referendum itself, and dollop a big helping of insulting patronisation on top for good measure.

In her autumn/winter collection there's a T-shirt with PROPAGANDA in massive Frankie Says style letters.

From that Independent interview:

I wanted to reactivate my World's End shop. I have so many ideas and I don't like letting them go so I thought I'd do them in different fabrics and sell them there, maybe for half price, you know, cutting out the middle man. I wanted it to be for kids, affordable, so I did some T-shirts too.

Affordable; that word again. For the kids. A £65 T-shirt.

I think we must know different kids.


scarletharlot69 said...

well, when she was on Desert Islands Discs she came accross as a snob.

Anonymous said...

oh get serious - vivienne is the most down to earth person you could meet - just uncompromising!!

scarletharlot69 said...

no she's a tosser