Vivienne Westwood celebrated in Lyon: on paper, the marriage of carp and rabbit. On the one hand, an English sans-culotte, dresser of the punk movement then supplier of insolent casseroles perched on platform shoes hyperbolic, before turning into an all-out activist (green, against hydraulic fracturing in particular, libertarian defender of Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning, anti-capitalist although herself a businesswoman). A 79-year-old tornado. On the other, an epicenter of French bourgeois temperance, where good taste rhymes with staying in the nails. The alloy works, however, at the Museum of Fabrics and Decorative Arts where “Vivienne Westwood: art, fashion and subversion” is presented, the first French exhibition dedicated to “Dame Viv”. Because beyond the caricature (of Westwood as of Lyon), the correspondences are multiple.
The five-part tour revolves around more than 200 pieces on loan from Lee Price, British collector and former collaborator of Westwood. They are compared with old costumes and works of art from the museum’s collections, and the whole reminds us that every designer is part of a history and a heritage, however innovative it may be and reverse of this heritage. And each extends it in their own way. Including, therefore, Vivienne Westwood, who is part of the tribe of fashion hotheads and who has emerged in the wake of another lit: Malcolm McLaren.
The exhibition is organized in five stages around more than 200 pieces on loan from the British collector Lee Price. Pictures Pierre Verrier. Tissue Museum
The couple was formed while she was selling jewelry after being a schoolteacher and breaking into the underground as a Situationist activist through the Beaux-Arts. Together, they opened in London, in 1971, a laboratory boutique with a changing blaze (Let it Rock, then Too Fast To Live Too Young To Die, Sex, Seditionaries, World’s End), nervous as the duo fingers in the socket, connected on the upheavals of urban subcultures linked to music (retro, pop, hippie, rock, punk…), to manners (sexuality, which they call to unleash, fetishism and pornography included). The store at 430, King’s Road echoed this through (salvaged) clothes, records, magazines. In parallel, from 1974, McLaren became manager of groups, first of the New York Dolls then of the Sex Pistols. Encouraged by McLaren, Westwood dressed them in her designs: t-shirts or ripped jeans, like those who wore them, provocative locker room that telescoped Karl Marx’s head, swastikas or the national flag, photos of naked cowboys from the waist to the calves, threats like «Anarchy» or «Destroy», with BDSM echo customization (safety pins, razor blades, chains, nails).
The Frivolous XVIIIe
This association with the punk movement (the rebellion) opens the Lyon exhibition with several showcases. It’s logical, dynamic, catchy. And fitting with Vivienne Westwood herself, bad girl for ever even after separating from McLaren, even after ennobling (an officer of the British Empire since 2006), a colorful character in word, gesture and appearance – dressed with his own creations, the hair in sauerkraut or ras , flamboyant red or platinum, very personally made up, these days the bright red eyelids.
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Her later periods are nevertheless the most interesting, which attest to the affirmation and the rise of a designer who continues to register against the doxa but by appropriating the codes with a cheerful, playful, solar vista.
Vivienne Westwood fashion show in Paris, in 1995. Photo P. Verdy. AFP
Vivienne Westwood, who separated from Malcolm McLaren in 1983 and has lived since 1988 with Andreas Kronthaler, one of her former students who became her alter ego in creation, “Don’t want us to bring her back to punk anymore”, underlines Esclarmonde Monteil, co-curator of the exhibition: “She’s moved on and doesn’t want to be limited to that.” It is also that punk had its limits, points out “Viv” bluntly, for example in 2015 in an interview with The Independent : “It wasn’t enough to potty and spit. Subversion needed ideas, and ideas come from culture. ”
Briefly passed through an art school before becoming an institute, it was as an autodidact that she studied, dissected and applied techniques, including the oldest ones, with a claimed penchant for historicism. The Frivolous XVIIIe particularly has its favors. Antoine Watteau inspires him sumptuous gallant dresses (including a chlorophyll green entitled “Women do not know all their coquetry” after a quote from La Rochefoucauld), François Bouchet a corset which reproduces a detail of oil on canvas Daphnis and Chloe, even a collection, “Vive la cocotte”, based on a portrait he had made of Madame de Pompadour. Westwood is also a fan of toile de Jouy, which she regularly diverts from furnishings for clothing, by reproducing patterns. In the Dutch Golden Age, she draws a detail from Portrait of Catharina Hooft and her nanny by Frans Hals: the chubby-cheeked girl, who reminds us of the psychopathic doll Chucky, is found on a corset with lace fringes …
The historicist leaning is reflected in his technical approach, which also carburizes under influence. Confirmation that beyond “novelty” and “trendy” gimmicks, fashion is an eternal restart punctuated by ruptures, some of which become heritage. Vivienne Westwood is one of those who underline this heritage, with very identifiable quotes. But it does not fall into line for all that, has fun, exaggerates, parodies, turns away. With it, the French dress of the Age of Enlightenment takes on the air of pavlova (pastry) with a deluge of knots, the breast pigeon to death; 18th century male court dresse emphasizes feminine lines, turns naughty and dapper; a fake ass on a minidress which reveals the panties frontally defies prudishness. But Westwood also knows how to pay homage without fuss, for example to the New Look of Christian Dior. And her ode to lightness is concrete, she is hardworking, stubborn, tenacious, can turn relentlessly around a piece such as the doublet called “Charles de Blois” (kept at the Musée des Tissus) which inspires her with amazing variations. . Like all great artificers, Westwood pulls out everything in control. And affirms, aware of its contribution: “What I changed in fashion is the cut.”
Linda Evangelista, at the Louvre, in 1995. Photo Gérard Julien. AFP
The Lyon exhibition is punctuated with quotes from Westwood, and for good reason: it has the meaning of the formula. Including this one, which would undoubtedly make people squeak if it came from a man: “Coquetry is part of feminine wisdom.” We still have to see what coquetry it is. The two walls devoted to XXL photos of parades attest to this, it is a preparation and a desire to seduce not suffered but liberated, triumphant, that she defends. His daughters are slammed queens or royal whores, divas-dandies draped in mystery or elegant demonstrators, never blank staring dolls. And they are from head to toe, the shoe is decisive and never discreet, a color that claps and an often vertiginous heel – and why not a joke, like that of the “Super Elevated Gillie” of 27.7 cm. ‘a sumptuous bowl by Naomi Campbell during a parade in 1993. The “panther” had got up hilariously, not even afraid. In fact, walking straight has never been Vivienne Westwood’s cup of tea.