Friday, 17 October 2008
Vivienne Westwood at the Winter Gardens
Katie E. Booth Ponders a Vivienne Westwood Collection
Many people assume that Fashion is merely pieces of clothing, selected to cover the naked form or in some cases express the wearers’ individuality so that people can point and gossip about their state in the street; but did you ever think of fashion as an art form? Well that is exactly what eccentric designer Vivienne Westwood is pushing you to believe with her touring exhibition celebrating her most infamous collections spanning three decades.
With its original start point the V&A gallery in London; I managed to catch up with the exhibition on its stint at the Winter Gardens in Sheffield. The gallery itself is home to many exotic exhibitions including a room filled with sculptures and garments made from woollen string and have held several pieces of work from renowned artists including Mark Quinn’s sculpture of a contorted Kate Moss. With the Gardens reputation and being an owner of a treasured pair of suede Vivienne Westwood ankle boots, I had high expectations for the exhibition (plus the £20 admission fee did not help the situation); and I was not left disappointed.
With a velvet red carpet leading the way, you are taken through the world of one of the most outrageous fashion designers and general nut job Vivienne Westwood whose motto for life is ‘You have a much better life if you have impressive clothes’. Beginning with her vital role in the emergence of punk rock in the 1970’s to her well known costume pieces of glamorous dresses and glimmering corsets. Showing exactly how she liked to push the boat out, you start with the ripped denim and studded boots of the Rock and Punk era. One piece that stood out was a simple black cotton t-shirt enclosed in a glass cabin with small bones attached by metal rings across the chest to symbol to word ‘Rock’. Learning her technique from the ever so familiar information cards, Westwood used small chicken bones collected from her local take away, boiling and drilling them she would attach them to her t-shirts to emulate key words such as ‘Rock’ or ‘Perv’: not only do you get an inside look of Westwood’s work but also her inner minds. Leading into Westwood’s bondage inspiration with full leather jumpsuits designed as a straight jacket, you also get to learn Westwood’s history and key aspects of her personal life that inspired her work. Usually I would skip these cards and gaze at the work but each fact was tied in with an outfit that gave you an insight into its creation.
Leaving the early years of Punk and Westwood’s starting points the exhibition seems to take a dull turn concentrating on the more ordain collections including the ‘Witches Collection’. One toned suits and drab dresses stain the electric reputation Westwood has held throughout her career. I attempt to read the history cards but once again find myself skipping past to the more glimmering collections. In an art exhibition that is only situated in one room, it seems a waste of vital space to concentrate on these lifeless pieces that, from reading the one history card in this section, are a collaboration between Westwood and her second husband Malcolm McClairin; where are the controversial garments and elaborate costumes I was promised? With the next stage of the exhibition titled ‘sex’ I had a feeling my question would soon be answered. The walls splattered with pornographic images and rubber curtains, the pieces filled with fetish rubber leggings and t-shirts with photographic prints of breasts on, I had finally found the quirkiness I had come to love from Vivienne Westwood. If the gallery had been crowded with people I probably would have skipped this section through embarrassment of looking at sex clothes but on this particular day the gallery was lifeless so I got a nice long look at the intricate detail of the stitching on the all-in-one play suit. However my eye was being drawn to the final part of the exhibition: the costume gala. I had finally found the source of the bubble of light you see shining over the cabinets as you entered the gallery; a circle of sequins and fabrics seemingly sewn with golden thread. The famous ‘Mock Crock’ platforms that saw Naomi Campbell fall flat on her bony behind on a runway in 1993 where encased in a glass cabinet in the centre of the room but I was drawn to the wall behind. A glimmering tribute to Westwood’s work with the traditional corset, specimens made from fabric, bone, sequin; I felt more like I was watching a Kylie concert than viewing an art exhibition. Select pieces from the recent costume collection from Paris Fashion week last year towered on a platform in the centre, garments looking like they had come straight out of littlest girls dressing up box but some how emulating the modern world of today’s fashion. A luscious Ball Gown trains crimson silk along the floor with details of golden thread giving the air of royalty.
Emerging from the room of glamour and glitz I feel I have just been released from the inner workings of Vivienne Westwood that, ignoring the dull periods of her McClairin stage, is wonderfully captured in this touring collection. Although I will not be spending £75 on the exclusive lipstick print white t-shirt, I can now challenge those who dismiss fashion as art: I challenge them to take a step inside the world of Vivienne Westwood.