Fantasy fuels so much of the art that we obsess over. Unrestrained by limits or logic, wondrous and strange, we consume it enthusiastically. It’s at the heart of David Lynch’s work, where everything is possible and nothing is what it seems. Vivienne Westwood drew upon dreams of courtly culture, of rubber fetishists, of pirates, highwaymen and dandies to create a world of undiluted fantasy and fun. Madonna and Steven Meisel’s boundary-pushing photography book Sex opens with the introduction: “Everything you are about to see and read is a fantasy, a dream, pretend.”
It was these three artists, and the mood of blurred realities that they so successfully bring to life, that combined to provide the inspiration behind a new series of photographs. Starring model of the moment Gabbriette, the shoot pays tribute to Vivienne Westwood’s great legacy and taps into the strangeness of Los Angeles. “Mischievous, playful, anarchic, melodrama – these were the moods we felt we wanted to explore in the context of Hollywood, Vivienne’s legacy and Gabriette’s fresh energy,” says art director Claire Arnold.
Photographed by Jen Wolf and styled by Rosa-Safiah Connell, the shoot sees Gabbriette captured against a Los Angeles backdrop as she shapeshifts into different characters – at times jester, at times old Hollywood star and Westwood archetype. Patricia Arquette in Lost Highway was a reference for the team, but the mood also recalls the high glamour and fantasy of another Lynch masterpiece, Mulholland Drive, and the melodrama of a Hitchcock leading lady.
To source the iconic Westwood outfits, the team collaborated with Pechuga Vintage, the go-to store for the rarest and most sought-after archive items in the industry. “Rosa asked for my VW ‘Portrait’ corset and I told her that it was best if someone from my team be present to handle the item,” says founder Johnny Valencia. “When she agreed we then decided to bring in more items including our extremely rare Vivienne Westwood bum cage from AW95, ‘Vive la Cocotte.’” In total, the Pechua team prepped for 16 hours and brought in $80,000 worth of Vivienne Westwood pieces. “I really wanted this to be special for everyone, especially for Gabbriette. G said this was by far the best shoot she had been on.”
On beauty, make-up artist Jezz Hill, hairstylist Eric Williams and nail artist Juan Alvear created striking creations that paid homage to Westwood’s most daring beauty looks over the course of her career. The team incorporated elements of Westwood herself – think her red drawn-on brows – with punk-era Nina Hagen-esque blush, pale powdered complexions and sky-high beehives. One hair look was inspired by Westwood’s AW93 runway show, with Williams combining pincurls and silver clips with blonde extensions into a ponytail, while the early Hollywood glamour of the AW92 catwalk was also an influence.
Casting Gabbriette in this role of a starlet navigating the weirdness of Hollywood, while simultaneously paying homage to Westwood, was a natural choice for the team. “She has such a raw and real beauty that is more reminiscent of the 90s with a genuine nod to subcultures through her own style which doesn’t feel contrived,” says Connell, who was “captivated” by the model’s presence. “I find her playful sexiness imbued with the spirit of punk reminded me of a lot of Vivienne’s representations of women throughout her work.”
Below, the team share more about their concept, stories from behind the shoot and the cinematic setting of Los Angeles.
What does Vivienne Westwood mean to you and to the wider fashion community?
Rosa-Safiah Connell [stylist]: Being British, Vivienne always meant a lot to me. My parents had me during the late 80s and I was surrounded by punk influences as a child as that’s what they were into. In a way Vivienne’s designs created a bridge from these underground subcultures into a luxury high fashion space which infuses the spirit and essence of British fashion. She really managed to embody the most positive and exciting aspects of British culture through her work.
Jen Wolf [photographer]: Being in the Southern California punk scene in my formative years exposed me to so many firsts, and Vivienne was this incredible portal into the fashion industry for me; a reason for me to delve deeper into it. Her work exposed me to the more gritty and real-world inspirations that can be found in fashion, and it really helped me to visualise someone like myself being able to command and make a place for myself in that world. I pivoted towards fashion imagery after seeing that designers like her were able to really make their own lane in the industry. I think she has a truly one-of-a-kind legacy, which is so powerful because it’s not something that can be manufactured.
The shoot takes place against the backdrop of Los Angeles and particularly Hollywood – why did you choose these as a setting?
Claire Arnold [art direction]: We were very careful to pick spaces that felt blurred the lines of reality and fantasy to balance the clothes and sense of character we were exploring. It was an interesting tension to play with to keep an element of rawness in the moments to ground the extraverted quality in Vivienne's pieces. Jen’s work has such a human yet cinematic quality it was such a beautiful match.
Jen Wolf: This really was the idea Rosa and I played with from the start. Knowing Gabbriette, I knew she could “play” the part. Rosa and I have always referenced films with one another, and I think we are both similarly delighted with the strangeness of Los Angeles. It’s a place that is both simultaneously average and dark, in that it has all of the problems of a city but it’s cloaked in these dramatic backdrops. All of the locations are no more than a 15-minute drive from me and, if you pay attention to your surroundings and to the light the city gets, it’s very cinematic. The contrast of that, with these Westwood characters made by hair, make-up and styling, is what instantly gives this feeling of a leading lady.
Why was Gabbriette the right model to pay this tribute to Westwood?
Jen Wolf: I first saw and cast Gabbriette about seven years ago. We worked together often for a few years and so many of the reasons I was drawn to her. [She really] felt like a catalyst for this shoot. They both have a punk attitude that is core to their personalities. We both grew up in a similar area, beach towns an hour south of Los Angeles, a place that I think just immediately gets associated with producing surfers. She has always really embodied to me the archetypal alternative Southern California girl – sort of the perfect opposite of what we are told the LA girl is like.
Pechuga [vintage archive]: Gabriette represents the girl that I want to dress: Latina, beautiful, down to earth, and with a shared love for design. I’m Salvadorian and it was nice to be able to speak Spanish on set, not just with G but with the MUA and the photographers. More Latin@s in spaces of luxury. Let’s go.
How was the experience of the shoot itself?
Pechuga: In Gabbriette I saw glimpses of Cindy Crawford and a young Gia Carangi. Such effortless beauty is inspiring, and the vision becomes clearer when you have someone that “gets it”. Gabbriette looked as if she’d been poured into the looks. The whole shoot was a perfect homage to Westwood in the 90s.
Claire Arnold: The death defying sky high platforms are a challenge in the Hollywood Hills. Gabriette slayed.
Jen Wolf: We all hit it off so quick and naturally. Which is great because then you can really get into the looks that are happening. I just think of the team going back and forth in the Hollywood hills in these major looks felt very LA. I’m so massively grateful for all the creatives that put their time and talent into this. It was clear we all have deep admiration for Vivienne and being able to individually pay homage to her was incredible to see.
Photography Jen Wolf, styling Rosa-Safiah Connell, make-up Jezz Hill, hair Eric Williams, nails Juan Alvear, art direction Claire Arnold, archive Pechuga Vintage, styling assistants Pechuga Vintage and Dani Swissa, lighting assistant Israel Mondaca, casting Director Ricky Michiels, production Benn McGregor, retouching Curro Verdugo, model Gabriette at IMG Models