Though Tank Girl first appeared as a comic strip in Deadline magazine in 1988, I got to the party kind of late. In fact, though it’s uncool to say, I had no idea who she was until Hollywood made a movie about her in 1995 – a film the comic’s co-creator Alan Martin apparently called a “shit sandwich” (though I have that quote third-hand). Shit sandwich or no, and even after years of consuming fashion images in art, films, and magazines, Lori Petty’s often-maligned representation of the indie comic icon stopped me in my tracks.
Originally written by Alan Martin and illustrated by Jamie Hewlett, Tank Girl (TG) was described by her creators as “Mad Max designed by Vivienne Westwood; Action Man designed by Jean Paul Gaulthier.”* An ass-kicking, gun-toting, tank-driving anti-hero with a smart mouth and a punk-rock haircut, TG was , to me, a model of perfectly unselfconscious rebellion. She didn’t give a damn and, furthermore, she didn’t give a damn that she didn’t give damn – if you follow.
I was 23 when the movie came out, and TG was was the toughest girl I’d ever seen – but it was her aesthetic that made me a fan for life. A brilliant mix of push-up bras and motorcycle boots, wrecked tee shirts, military goggles, sweat-sock-armbands and vampy 50s makeup, her style was fierce and joyful and utterly unapologetic.
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.