book review: Vivienne Westwood – An Unfashionable Life

Vivienne in her famous rocking horse shoes.

This biography chronicles Vivienne’s life from childhood to her sixties, documenting the inward and outward influences that helped shape her into the King’s Road punk, outrageous innovator, and renegade style icon she is known as today. As emphasized in the book, Vivienne always sought attention (declaring at the birth of sister, Olga that she would “‘dead her and put her in the dustbin’”) and adding provocative details to her school gymslips. This originality married with a nostalgic affection for traditional English textiles would become one of Vivienne’s trademarks, as seen in her Harris Tweed and Anglomania collections.

Vivienne was famously uninterested in trends, seeking to create what appealed to her own artistic sensibilities, causing immeasurable stress for those working with her. Her use of impractical fabrics and cuts made her designs “extremely complicated to manufacture, as she [rejected] any recognizable template or pattern”. In the business world, Vivienne’s companies dealt with constant financial mismanagement, largely stemming from employees taking advantage of her trust (or oversight, as the case may be) and swindling money. Vivienne fought for recognition among her contemporaries, such as John Galliano (with whom she unsuccessfully competed to become Design Director of Dior in the mid-90s), Alexander McQueen and Jean-Paul Gaultier, many of whom restructured Vivienne’s original concepts, such as the corset and bustle, to be more commercially successful.
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