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Vivienne Westwood is reputed to be one of the most prominent female-clothing fashion designers in the modern world. She has had a largely successful career in the world of fashion design and works along a centralized theme - that of modernizing old world fashions into the new world demands with the clever use of tailoring to achieve her looks. Despite working along traditional lines, this designer entered the field with widely different ideas about how to best accentuate the female body from the traditional concepts. This report will explore both how and why her designs accentuate the female body. In addition, Westwood has an interesting personal history that contributes in large part to the way in which she expresses herself. Cultural backgrounds play an even further role in her art. Although she celebrates the female form with a modern theme on an old world base, Vivienne Westwood manages to blend her cultural and personal background to produce very different effects.
Vivienne Westwood had little notion of her passion for fashion until after she had entered adult life and began exploring her own female identity. She had already begun experimenting some with clothes, but for Westwood, it was in choosing and wearing her clothes in a unique way rather than designing completely new patterns that sparked her interest in the industry. After her first marriage failed, Westwood found herself living with her young son and several men who attended art school together, including Malcolm McLaren, then known as Malcolm Edwards (Savage, 2001). It was through her relationship with McLaren that Westwood first discovered her ability and interest in fashion. Robin Scott, one of the other men who lived in the house with Westwood and McLaren at the time, provides a unique summary of how Westwood entered the world of fashion:
"Before he committed himself to Vivienne, Malcolm was experimenting with a variety of costumes, situations and artistic styles. Within an art school context, his eccentricities were acceptable, even approved of, but none of this activity was focused. Vivienne provided a backbone built out of her insistence on hard work, and her extreme commitment to a variety of beliefs â€¦ She entered his fantasy world: her strength enabled them both to turn fantasy into reality" (Savage, 2001).
By 1971, McClaren decided to open a shop that Westwood would fill with her designs (Frankel, 2001). Westwood herself is considered the artist who created punk, with assistance from McClaren. She started by adding metal studs to the backs of jackets, and then moved on to experiment with various types of unusual accessories and specific tailoring to suit a revolutionary minority culture.
Westwood developed her talents in the thick of the 1960s and 1970s rock and roll movement in Britain and her female fashions exemplify the sexual freedom and aggressive stance of women coming into their own. Living amidst the repression and conservatism of Britain at the time, Westwood felt this was in direct opposition to the freedom and liberation being claimed by the hippie movement and rebelled against both with the aggressive, outspoken nature of the women's clothing she designed. With McLaren, Westwood discovered that "there was a dramatic potential in the clothes themselves that could be heightened: laden with associations, biker gear links sexuality, violence and death, in a twentieth century archetype" (Savage, 2001) and began a new line of clothes based on these ideas. By adding metal studs, chicken bones, chains, zippers, and other gear to clothing, Westwood was able to define the beginnings of the punk culture and introduce much more power and masculinity into women's fashions (Savage, 2001). Following her introduction of punk, she further defined the new romantic "pirate" movement and the "savages" movement of asymmetrical skirts and ripped layers. Further impacting the fashion world, it was Westwood who reintroduced the use of petticoats, combining them with bowler hats and head scarves and the concept of wearing bras on the outside. "Madonna's now legendary conical bra, created by Jean Paul Gaultier and worn throughout her Blonde Ambition tour nearly ten years later, would never have happened if it hadn't been for Westwood playing with the concept of underwear as outerwear some time before him" (Frankel, 2001).
The aggressive nature of her designs leaves little room for a simpering feminine portrait or even a trace of innocence. In introducing the punk styles and biker gear, Westwood recognized a large portion of the attraction to this mode of clothing was the inherent empowerment afforded the wearer. There is always a sense of the menacing just under the surface or the 'bad girl' lurking right around the corner, as is somewhat apparent in the following example (Nettle):
In this piece, she is obviously going for a very sexually dominating look. The collar around the neck, for example, is almost a universal icon denoting dominance and self-mastery. The bodice is low-cut, under-wired and revealing, intended to amplify the wearer's bosom and usually worn under other clothes. Clean vertical lines serve to focus more attention on the skin rather than the clothes, and provide sharp, eye-catching contrast to the curved lines under the cups. Dark colors, always closely associated with the erotic, have been used to accentuate the "window" effect of the bodice. The red boa hearkens to traditional images of brothels. The mental connection made further accents the sexual and powerful nature of the design. It is loosely hung around the arms indicating a freedom of movement and the red color intensifies the darkly romantic aspect of the entire image. Flaunting the traditional plain and unremarkable nature of skirts in England, this skirt is most definitely designed to be attention-catching with its high seam and form-fit. The black nylons further help to both conceal and reveal at the same time, providing a lengthy, curvy counterpoint to the solid black of the skirt and lending mystery to the ensemble.
Through her use of tailoring, Westwood functions on the knowledge that sex sells on the open marketplace, and that people will buy it if it caters to their fantasies. In her fashions, she caters to the masses by providing what she feels the public as a whole truly wants. Although dark and overtly erotic, this statement has a lot of truth value as consumers continue to flock to this type of market. However, Westwood also thinks of the female body as beautiful and sensual. Her clothes exemplify this in the most erotic manner possible by accenting those aspects of the female body others find attractive. This concept is quickly understood when looking at the above example, a characteristic piece for Westwood. By using the lines and circular patterns around the chest of the model, she exemplifies the rounded form of the breast area while providing slimming lines to the waist. The low cut of the bodice helps to accentuate any cleavage, which is further enhanced by the implementation of an underwire. The curves and bareness of the shoulders and neck are amplified by the loose hang of the feathery boa around the shoulders, both softening the edges and tantalizing observers with the appearance of the skin. The conservative-seeming skirt in relation to the aggressive display of the top is used as a tempering device even while demonstrating a strong sexuality utilizing the complex art of teasing and flirtation. The tight skirt works to highlight the rounded curves of the upper thigh while keeping it hidden just out of view. The touch of conservatism the skirt brings in to the group helps to soften some of the aggression as well, bringing back the image of the demure woman. Through this unique modern/traditional combination, Westwood defines feminine strength as being highly aggressive, yet still soft and inviting to the touch.