Vivienne Westwood vs Lily Cole

In an exclusive film, fashion's queen of anti-establishment talks activism with muse Lily Cole

It’s not often the fashion world collides with political and environmental issues, but long time activist Vivienne Westwood is definitely the exception to the rule. Using her iconic fashion status as a platform to express her concerns over drastic environmental issues, Westwood has been sharing ideas of sustainability and global responsibility for years. For her SS14 Red Label show Vivienne collaborated with her long-time muse Lily Cole to create a film and live performance inspired by the growing number of people losing their homes because of natural disasters. The film, which premiers exclusivly on Dazed, is based on the classic Hans Christian Andersen tale of “The Red Shoes” and features Lily dancing in a variety of Westwood pieces (including the beautiful sustainable rubber dress designed specifically for her to wear to the Met Gala). The film highlights human rights issues raised by the Environmental Justice Foundation, whose postcard project focussing on the importance of home has also been hugely influential for them both. Dazed sat down with Vivienne and Lily to discuss the process of creating the film, how fashion should engage with globalization, and why it’s so important to get a life.

Dazed Digital: So, how did this project come about?

Vivienne Westwood:We were thinking about our Red Label show in London. I find it really difficult to talk about clothes, so I always hi-jack my collections and talk about the environment instead. We already knew we wanted to work with the Environmental Justice Foundation but we didn’t know exactly how, so Andreas, my husband and partner in crime, phoned Lily to see if she had any ideas.

Lily Cole: They called me in the summer and I spoke with Lorna who's a filmmaker and a good friend of mine. She'd had a dream about me dancing in a film so I said she should write a treatment and we could see if they wanted to do it.

VW: The idea was very simple; she would dance this dance with the red shoes. So we fit that into the EJF and the idea of climate confusion.

DD: Why did you choose the folktale of The Red Shoes?

VW: The story is about this incredibly arrogant girl whose shoes are enchanted by a stranger, and she becomes trapped in a dance of the red shoes – she’ll die if she stops dancing. She goes through this terrible landscape getting torn with thorn bushes and there are storms starting to rage and everything. Eventually she gets her feet chopped off and that’s the only way she can get rid of the shoes. I just thought it was a brilliant metaphor for the people who have to leave their homes, they are trapped by their environment which is degrading them, maybe its the water or a terrible disaster, and they can't survive there anymore. There are different ways that people are being forced off their homeland now, just like animals, You have to go because to stay there is death.

LC: It’s the idea of being an animal trapped in a very enclosed space, trying to fly, trying to break out. In one scene in the film I'm wearing this feather boa blue dress, which was almost visually like a bird.

DD: At what point did you decide you were going to perform the dance live on the runway for the SS14 show as well?

LC: I was on holiday with a bunch of friends and by complete coincidence one of them happened to organise the Red Label show. If that hadn’t happened I probably wouldn’t have suggested a performance, but in conversation I was saying how I love theatre and had some ideas about how we could perform the film live. It was absolutely nerve wracking but quite fun.

DD: I would have been terrified…

VW: She was trembling!

LC: I was performing trembles. 

DD: It was a very important moment during fashion week, because you stood up and presented something totally different to any other designers. Why isn’t there more social and political commentary in fashion?

LC: There’s an inherent contradiction between appreciating the beauty of clothes and creativity and individuality, and the waste around the ideas of trends and seasons.

VW: Advertising is all about buying things you don’t need. What we’re talking about is making a real choice as much as you can. You know, buy less choose well.

LC: I love beautiful things, I like having nice clothes and I can appreciate why other people do – but I’ve also started to learn more about the impact of what we buy: how things are made, how much you buy and the quality of everything.

VW: My husband Andreas said that if people would only buy beautiful things, we wouldn’t have an environment problem. That’s probably largely true.

DD: How else can people engage with these issues?

VW: People wonder “what can I do?” and don't do anything. Just inform yourself about the world – go to the Chinese exhibition at the V&A! It’s one of the most live-changing, brilliant things to do. Get a life. If you get a life you can help other people to get a better life as well. Don't be somebody with a hole in your head that can't do anything.