Throughout the 1980s, Vivienne Westwood’s designs underwent prolific change. At the beginning her work explored post-punk androgyny and influenced by 18th century men’s clothing she created her iconic ‘Pirates’ collection (1981). As the decade progressed her silhouettes became more feminine and tailored. Her work reinvented English heritage and she used traditional fabrics such as tweed and tartan to construct the 1988 ‘Time Machine’ collection. This exhibition will examine this change and showcase over 40 iconic objects from this period. Dazed Digital spoke to co-curators Audrey Chaney and Emma Kadar-Penner about bringing Westwood to New York.
Dazed Digital: Why did you decide to focus the exhibition on Westwood's work over the period 1980-89?
Audrey Chaney & Emma Kadar-Penner: Vivienne Westwood, 1980-89 will be the first exhibition to focus solely on Vivienne Westwood's career during the 1980s, when the former trailblazer of Punk style was welcomed into the fashion establishment. During this exciting period, she developed design traits that continue to influence her work today. Press coverage of the designer shifted from magazines following underground club culture to include preeminent fashion publications. Westwood's achievements during this decade earned her the British Designer of the Year award in both 1990 and 1991.
DD: How do you feel her designs changed over that period of time?
AC & EK-P: Westwood's designs of the 1970s were geared towards members of the Punk scene, and featured ripped, safety-pinned t-shirts and bondage gear. In 1980 she and partner Malcolm McLaren shifted focus, renaming their store World's End. Their design style now evoked a nostalgia for an imagined past, combining references to historical costume, with elements of street art and world dress. These early 1980s designs achieved a unisex look with layers of loose-fitting, asymmetrically draped fabrics. Midway through the decade, Westwood and McLaren ended their partnership. Westwood's solo collections revealed a new design aesthetic that was informed by her continued research into fashion and art history. She revived the crinoline of the 19th century, but made it mini. Updating tailoring techniques traditionally associated with menswear, she reinterpreted the corset without the rigid boning of its predecessors. Westwood's design vocabulary expanded and the result was a confident femininity.
DD: ....and the way people responded to her work?
AC & EK-P: The New Romantics identified with World's End clothing. Image- conscious members of this subculture, including musicians, artists, and club kids, were attracted to the label's billowy romanticism and eccentric look. Alternative magazines, such as The Face and i-D showed World's End clothing on musicians and hip teens, appealing to members of the London street scene.
A new clientele responded favorably to the assertive femininity of Westwood's solo designs. Her client base broadened to include society's upper crust, who welcomed an alternative to the broad-shouldered power suit of the 1980s. The fashion press began to display Westwood's clothing on professional models, highlighting its womanly appeal.
DD: How did you go about selecting the works in the exhibition?
AC & EK-P: The costume collection at the Museum at FIT (MFIT) contains a notable selection of Vivienne Westwood's early work. In addition to garments and accessories from MFIT, we selected magazine tear sheets, images, and videos that strongly convey the shifts that occurred during this pivotal decade of Westwood's career.
Vivienne Westwood 1980-89 will exhibit from March 8th – April 2nd 2011 at The Museum at FIT, New York