The character of Vivienne Westwood has always been somewhat split. On the one hand, she’s a devoted, if idiosyncratic, campaigner for the causes she believes in — halting climate change, reversing light pollution, dismantling mindless consumerism. Her spring collection was ample proof of this, with Lily Cole performing an interpretive dance symbolizing the destructive effects of unfettered consumerism. Yet Dame Viv’s creative self has is often fascinated by less worthy topics: absolute power, pageantry, inherited wealth. Her fall collection was a love letter to the British aristocracy of yore.
Some of the looks, such as a fur coat draped over a pinstriped skirt suit and a cinched, puff-sleeved leather jacket, were unadulterated power dressing. For the most part, however, the power was institutionalized, bourgeois, ingrained. There were references to the fifties, that decade of plenty, with pearls, princess line coats with velvet collars and debutante dresses.
Britishness was paramount, both in the outlook and the materials (you can bet all those tweeds were made in the UK). It’s not hard to imagine a post-war duchess in these clothes, surveying her estate. The silk headscarves many of these looks were styled with, meanwhile, have no greater ambassador than the Queen herself. And on that dynastic note, it was charming to see Queen Viv take her bow on the arm of model Cora Corre, her granddaughter.
Without the light shows or face paint that has characterized recent Red Label shows, there was nothing to disguise the fact that this collection will sell. The historicity was, for the most part, toned down so as to be wonderfully wearable — a draped neckline here, a hint of corsetry there. It was, however, a delight to see a mini-crini on the Westwood runway once more, featured in one of the less commercial looks.
Gamely, the show notes attempted to marry the ethics with the sumptuousness, ending with the suggestion that showgoers might like to attend an anti-fracking rally in Knightsbridge next week. You certainly can’t imagine the woman of this collection going along, but you never know, she might. After all, sometimes you shouldn’t rely on the clothes to provide the rebellion.