At 73, Dame Vivienne Westwood is one of the most important fashion designers in the world. Born in Tintwistle and moving to London as a teenager, her work in the seventies with Malcolm McLaren influenced both the punk and New Romantic movements, shifting fashion and popular culture.
Her designs under her own label, from 1984 onwards, proved equally influential across the sphere of fashion.
Since the late 1980s, she has designed collections in partnership with Andreas Kronthaler, 48, who is creative director of the four labels currently produced by the Westwood company.
Westwood and Kronthaler married in 1993. Her most recent work reflects her passion for ecological issues, fusing them with historical references.
Ahead of her autumn/winter 2015 show, presented today in Paris, Westwood and Kronthaler corresponded – at length – to a series of questions inspired by the D.I.Y. theme of the Independent magazine’s spring/summer 2015 fashion special. Westwood’s work has been heavily influenced by the ethos from the punk era onwards – recent collections have featured free-falling panels of fabric wrapped and draped by the wearer, rather than secured by stitches. Westwood has also literally printed the slogan “D.I.Y,” across a number of garments: her most recent were created in collaboration with the retailer Opening Ceremony, and also revived a number of styles from her early years. An interview based on them is published in tomorrow’s Independent on Sunday, along with a review of Westwood’s unisex-inspired collection (where Game of Thrones‘ statuesque Gwendoline Christie was an unexpected addition to the modelling cast).
The full Q&A – written by Vivienne and Andreas themselves, with several revisions and additions, – is available below.
How long have you been working in partnership?
Vivienne Westwood: I think next year is our silver wedding and we have been working together longer than that. We met in Vienna when I was a teacher and Andreas came to do work experience.
Andreas Kronthaler: I stayed and never went back.
How does design work as a collaboration between the two of you? What is the process of creating a collection together?
Andreas: When we start a collection I explore as many possibilities as I can, then I start to take away and this can drive us all mad. I physically collect visual impressions and sometimes file them away and hatch them until I need them. We usually work on different things, Vivienne usually starts with the knitwear- then we bring all the elements together.
Vivienne: Our walls and windows are covered in photos and photocopies from books and the internet: pictures of carpets, Saint Laurent, a little girl with matted hair, bondage (which Andreas has translated into a dress held against the body by elastic bands running through hidden channels.) He collected all these odd logos, symbols and fridge magnet type graphics and superimposed them on each other for a t-shirt design. We call it the “meaningless T shirt” though it’s very attractive and seems interesting.
Among the elements Andreas collected is a traditional grass hula skirt which he bought second hand. It is knotted onto a rope which is tied around the waist, but it adds weight. How to use this beautiful garment as an inspiration? Andreas had requested samples of raffia and silk tassels and fringe from the embroidery companies. Yesterday we set them out on the floor and set about trying to choose elements in view of how we would apply them. We ended up with a great idea- a leather belt shaped to fit low on the hip so that fringes of different lengths and materials could be knotted on it at hip level. A practical solution because the belt can be easily strapped on and the ‘grass’ at hip means you lose the weight. We had to work this out together and we went through all kinds of possible ideas to get there.
It is unisex, which is the theme of the next Gold Label collection. It’s great to have a theme but if not you just have to start a collection with God knows what. Start, relay, build, and check with your team. The theme will come; sometimes you impose it at the last moment. Knitwear is easy because the elements are so few. I select 1 or 2 yarns and use them separately – I love mixing two different coloured and different textured yarns together because then you discover new textures and colours you can’t describe. Like a computer- knitting is binary – you only have two stitches, one where the loop goes to the back and one where it goes to the front and you can make holes or shape a whole garment by putting two loops together and you can twist the stitches and combine colour. Think of all the different effects you can get in socks and tights. People made the finest lace wedding dresses and tweed suits in knitting.
What are the benefits of designing as a duo?
Vivienne: I love designing with Andreas. Like all the great male designers in the world, he puts women on a pedestal.
My closest friends are intellectual. Andreas astonishes me. He seems to know by direct experience. He is extremely visual (e.g. a practical example is that he would know immediately what year a building was built.) He has great power to absorb music. He can’t be bothered to tell what he knows but when he does he tells me things that only he could have thought of. I am literal (all my clothes belong to a character, tell a story). I can work things out in the air – they don’t always work out; a little sample of square fabric may not behave as you expect when you receive the whole length. Andreas goes mad while he is waiting for fabric. He says, “I can’t paint without the paint”.
Andreas’ ideas are so big. When I first met him as a student the girl had to climb a step ladder to best display the dress he made. I helped pin down his ideas. I am an anchor. And he locked into my ideas and built them into new triumphs.
Andreas: We really do work with each other’s strengths. We can’t seem to do without each other. It’s incredible how she’s able to come up with something that’s amazing every day.
Vivienne has an original mind that keeps ticking away. We are the opposite in many ways but opposites attract and there is a deep attraction. I just like who she is, the way she is and how she sees the world.
Are there any difficulties?
Vivienne: He’s a perfectionist.
Andreas: I’m never satisfied, but I have to stop, because I run out of time.
After the highly-tailored, very constructed clothes you created in the 1990s and early 2000s – clothes which had all the hallmarks of haute couture – why did you turn to the idea of D.I.Y. – and how does it manifest itself in your collections today?
Vivienne: I have always used DIY- e.g. tear your own holes.
One of my favourite looks is in seventeenth-century women’s portraits. Nell Gwyn or somebody’s mistress pretending to look like a Greek goddess but really wearing her shift, her underwear as if she’s just got out of bed and her stole is really a blue satin bed cover. And I love the same look of a nightdress worn under a man’s jacket, maybe a soldier’s jacket – a brief liaison.
I love boxer shorts worn over tights or a little historical jacket worn with a bit of sailcloth around your loins as if you’ve been shipwrecked. And I mix ethnic, historical, standard cutting and cuts made from rectangles and triangles and meanders. And Andreas loves folk costume. He comes from the Tyrol where this costume is still worn and suits all shapes and sizes – very dignified. It’s where Chanel took her Chanel jacket from. Also we like cross-dressing.
Andreas: Regarding couture, Saint Laurent is! From early on I was mesmerized by the work of Saint Laurent. What I think it was is that it is so deep. The others – a bow, though necessary is just on there. With him you feel that of all the bows in the world- that dress and its bow is a quintessential idea. And I like his women; they are very very very sexy, without being vulgar- simple. The dress is just held on with a bit of lace or ribbon. You just need to undo it. And there’s all the rest he does for women- to say nothing of that.
Vivienne: Andreas once said that Saint Laurent was the most creative person who stood on this planet.
Andreas: But of course not the only one. Watteau, my God! I saw something of his the other day in the Ruben’s exhibition. A man kissing a woman – and the way he got her. To draw, to paint that!
Vivienne: When Andreas and I began working together one of the first things he did was to take the Statue of Liberty corset and build big, big dresses. You can’t do that without a base. As Dior said, “Foundation is everything”. We had dresses with trains that were half way down the catwalk, culminating in those three wonders in silk radzimir, meters long – you saw them in the center of the V&A exhibition [a retrospective of Westwood’s work was staged in 2004] – yellow for Christy Turlington, mauve with a black fringe for Naomi and orange with diamonds and a straw trailing petticoat for Tatjana Patitz. Andreas loved working with super models and I love working with him. Like all the great male designers he puts women on a pedestal- they look a goddess.
I think I should mention that Andreas is the one who works most closely with our team and as we are so busy with two shows coming up, he gets interrupted and he is leaving this interview mainly to me. Otherwise he may or may not have answered more. He and I are both bossy.
Anyway, the couture was down to Andreas and he managed to achieve an extreme tailored silhouette that was never before seen. He has taught himself all the technique but he also worked with three German pattern cutters who were technically trained tailors. This training doesn’t exist in England but it is still taught in Germany.
Our Gold Label is still couture- flou and tailored- but adapted for manufacture e.g. we tear hems instead of hand-rolling edges and our drapes fall into place by means of the cutting principle rather than being pinned on the stand and hand stitched into place.
Andreas: We’ve always been interested in unisex clothes, I’m very happy when it looks better on a woman – or the other way around.
You’ve often voiced your passion on environmental issues: how do you reconcile that with fashion, with its inbuilt cycle of artificial obsolescence?
Andreas: If people bought only beautiful things that would be the first thing but even then you would have to put the planet first. Live in harmony.
Vivienne: When I realised the urgent need to stop climate change I understood that I did not want our business to expand beyond the control of Andreas and I so we work for that- concentrating on quality versus quantity. Even though we will open 2 more shops, 1 in Paris and 1 in New York, they are part of the plan. A company limited to an organic size with a clear hierarchy is an efficient company, making only things we like and without waste. I think this is a base for us to become even more sustainable. Our motto is ‘Buy less, choose well, make it last’.
Your new Opening Ceremony/World’s End collaboration puts slogans like “+5degrees” and “D.I.Y” next to older punk slogans. Do you see environmental protest as a form of punk for the twenty-first century?
Andreas: We worked with Opening Ceremony to select relevant Worlds End archive pieces that also play with this idea of DIY or unisex clothing. We wanted to create this look of an ‘Urban Guerrilla’ – a rebel, sporting political slogans and original, statement clothing.
Vivienne: I realise you need slogans on clothes if they are to be political and yes punk for me was political. The world we live in is run by death and destruction and my idea of punk was that we didn’t need these criminal leaders. That’s why I advocated anarchy. Young punks rejected all adult values.
Then I realised it wasn’t enough to pogo and spit. Subversion needs ideas, and ideas come from culture. Culture gives you an anchor – roots and from that you build your vision. If we had true culture we would not be in danger from environmental collapse. Now through graphics and slogans I am telling young people that propaganda has replaced culture; propaganda to consume and suck up: non-stop distraction! Culture is to engage with the world and our past. (Read, go to art galleries, theatre, etc.) You get out what you put in.
I’m afraid I don’t have time to continue with a full explanation. But if we don’t stop climate change we will soon have mass extinction of all life forms. When I read a few years ago in an interview, the scientist James Lovelock say that by the end of this century he thought there would only be 1 billion people left, , it became my priority to try to stop it. The first thing I did was to support the charity Coolearth.org who will save the rainforest by 2020. There is so much being done by NGO’s etc- people know about it through the internet.
How important are clothes as an expression of individuality – thought and aesthetic?
Andreas: People always have a romantic idea of who they are. Clothes can help you to find this out. The more you stay true to who you are, the better you look.
If the world ended tomorrow, what would you like to be remembered for?
Vivienne and Andreas: We hope the world doesn’t end.
Vivienne: The best and most useful thing I’ve ever done is my analysis on ‘End Capitalism’-please take a look on my Climate Revolution blog.
via: The Independent