Dance of Death: Vivienne Westwood Red Label Spring 2014

Vivienne Westwood could never be accused of going low concept. For spring 2014, her collection was inspired by climate change, a frequent preoccupation for the ardently political designer.

Yet there were no lazy slogan T-shirt half-measures here. Westwood loaded the collection with references to Hans Christian Anderson’s bloodthirsty children’s story The Red Shoes, a cautionary tale wherein a flighty young maiden acquires some beautiful red shoes, stops going to church, is cursed to dance maniacally in said shoes, repents her sins, asks the executioner to chop her feet off, and dies. Queen Viv has, rather boldly, taken this story as an allegory for the current state of fashion. Her message: the dance of death must end.

To animate the narrative, she roped in her buddy, the intellectual supermodel Lily Cole, who opened the show with a spot of interpretive dance. Throwing violent postures in a flowing white gown bathed in red light, Cole heralded a show of gorgeous theatricality. Even the models’ makeup served a wider point: facepaint has become something of a standard at Westwood shows of late and here it was deathly pale and bluish, perhaps to convey the imminent self-destruction of humanity.

But what of the clothes themselves? Here’s the irony: they were wonderfully, perversely wearable. As the practical little sister to the Gold Label, which will be showing shortly in Paris, this ought to be expected — but Westwood never phones it in. A dress is never just a dress. Here was her precision cutting on dramatically draped shirts and dresses with the corset-shaped bodice she has made her own. The joys of nature were espoused further with a striking floral digital print that was applied to jumpsuits, blouses and pencil skirts. Traditional British fabrics — another Westwood mainstay and very sustainable — were seen in the sumptuous tweeds and brocades of the tailored pieces. The moral of the story: save the planet by buying Westwood — sparingly.

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