Dark Star

The Miseducation of Vivienne Westwood

At this point the reporter treads more delicately, gently inquiring as to whether the designer enjoys New York, the glamour of which she appears to be happily basking in at present. "I don't like it. When I first came to America, I was really into rock and roll, but I now realize that popular culture bores me. It's not culture, it's not original, it doesn't have any ideas.

"I don't like American pragmatism, that everything is judged by success. So long as everybody is happy it doesn't matter if they did the crime or not— everything is judged by its result rather than its value. Everything is measured in money, of course, and art is part of it. If it's successful it will sell— that is the criteria. The first question of a philistine confronted by an old master is, 'How much is it?' Well, it doesn't have a price."

Maybe not, but the stuff hanging on the walls— including Westwood's own versions of jeans and jean jackets, tiny cotton sweaters, and winky plaid handbags— certainly does. Westwood astonishes the reporter by breaking off her diatribe to indulge in a little selling herself. "It does do something for you!" she calls out to a barefoot customer who is trying to make up her mind about a prospective purchase. "I don't know how old you are, but you're such a child in it! So slimming! Look what that does for her! So gorgeous! Doesn't that look comfortable! Doesn't she look super! Such a pretty lady!"

Dressing down: Vivienne Westwood explains it all from her new shop in Soho.
Gregory Pace / Sygma
Dressing down: Vivienne Westwood explains it all from her new shop in Soho.

This brief interlude over, Westwood returns to her theme, a welter of ideas as archaic as her court clothes but, alas, minus their airy charm. "There's nothing that has ever happened to lead us to believe that things get better," she declares flatly. "In the world of physical health I expect that we do not have as much discomfort and death at such a young age— this is true— but I think it's a mistake for people to make parallels with anything else, to say that technology improves things. We live in such confusion . . ."

Surrounded by racks of expensive gewgaws, Westwood seems unaware that as recently as 100 years ago, she, a greengrocer's daughter, would likely never have left the family home except to marry or enter into domestic service, would not necessarily even have learned to read or write, and would have stood virtually no chance of spending a lovely afternoon pontificating in a chic Manhattan shop with her name out front. "If she would just put a little jacket on top of that," she muses to no one in particular, turning back to the hapless customer still flouncing uncertainly in front of the full-length mirror. "She's got the waist for it, hasn't she?"

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