WHEN the first Vivienne Westwood cafeteria opened in Shanghai two years ago, many local fans thronged there in the hope of a close contact with the “godmother of punk fashion.”
Vivienne Westwood poses for Gold Label Autumn/Winter 2010-2011 Collection.
In 1971, Westwood began designing with her then partner Malcolm McLaren at 430 Kings Road in London. As their fashion ideas evolved, the duo changed not only the name of the shop but also its décor.
Five years later, Westwood and McLaren defined the street culture of Punk with Seditionaries. She then turned to traditional Savile Row tailoring techniques, using British fabrics and drawing on 17th and 18th century art for inspiration.
Today, Westwood has scaled the heights of fashion’s hall of fame. In 2006, her contribution to British fashion was officially recognized by her appointment as Dame of the British Empire by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.
“Get a Life,” the global debut of Westwood in dialogue with Chinese contemporary art, is currently underway at K11 in downtown Shanghai, aiming to offer her local fans an opportunity to explore Westwood’s ideas about fashion, social issues, people and nature.
Vivienne Westwood attends the closing ceremony of the 2012 London Paralympic.
Different from some other retrospective shows that featured glamorous costumes, the exhibition presents Westwood’s cutting-edge collections and campaigns, and critically highlights her work as an activist and environmental campaigner.
In fact, Vivienne Westwood as a fashion brand has always been about more than just producing clothes and accessories. It is often thought-provoking.
Westwood continues to capture the imagination while raising the awareness of environmental and human rights issues. With a design record spanning more than 40 years, Westwood herself is regarded as one of the most influential activists in the world today.
She has always used her collections and catwalk shows as platforms to campaign for positive activism. For many years, she has spoken out tirelessly about climate change and over-consumption, mobilizing international attention around ecological crusading.
“It’s a war for the very existence of the human race. And that of the planet,” she once said. “The most important weapon we have is public opinion: go to art galleries, start to understand the world you live in, You’re a freedom fighter as soon as you start doing that.”
The exhibition displays a series of photos and costumes that Westwood uses to showcase her ideas, such as her “Ethical Fashion Initiative.”
A display of Vivienne Westwood’s design themed on “Climate Revolution”
Styles have been created using recycled canvas, reused roadside banners, unused leather off-cuts and recycled brass.
The latter is produced in Nairobi’s biggest slum, Kibera, where discarded metal items such as padlocks and car pieces are collected and then melted down.
Vivienne Westwood's drawing on fracking tries to raise awareness about exploratory drilling.
The collections include a range of bag styles for men and women, including unisex rucksacks, totes, patchwork drawing string bags. These “hand-made with love” bags are providing more and more employment for impoverished communities rather than charity.
In a response to the theme “Get a Life,” the K11 Art Foundation also incubates a cluster of emerging Chinese artists to echo and underscore Westwood’s message of climate change, to challenge viewers’ definition of people, nature and society.
It is a pity that Westwood didn’t appear at the opening of her exhibition in Shanghai, but Alex Krenn, the head designer at Vivienne Westwood and her long-term friend, gave a quick interview to Shanghai Daily.
Krenn has been instrumental in leading and curating major design projects and exhibitions for the brand for almost 20 years.
Focusing on textiles, graphics and prints, he also produces seasonal accessary collections and creates prints across the Andreas Kronthaler and Vivienne Westwood ready-to-wear lines.
Alex Krenn, the head designer at Vivienne Westwood
Q: How do you define the theme “Get a Life” for this Westwood exhibition in Shanghai?
A: It is Vivienne’s message to “get a life for yourself and for future generations” to engage with the world through art and culture, and to inform yourself on matters relating to climate change.
It criticizes the problems related to over-consumption and the global financial system in connection to the environment and, importantly, climate change.
Q: How long have you known Vivienne Westwood and how would you describe her?
A: Let me think … It seems that we have known each other for about 30 years. In my eyes, she is a good cook, an activist. She is intellectual and very warm.
Q: For those who are familiar with Vivienne Westwood, what could the exhibition render for them? While for those who are not, what would be the charming part of the exhibition?
A: Both will see another aspect. For those who are familiar with Vivienne Westwood, they will find some more private and personal items of her, such as the oil painting featuring her portrait created by Leonard Peltier; Peltier has been in jail for 28 years for a crime he did not commit.
For those who are unfamiliar with her, it’s good to see everything together at the exhibition, varying from archive pieces, texts, photos to backdrop to understand her.
Q: Could you recommend some of the eye-catching items of this exhibition?
A: There are quite a lot of impressive works, for example in February 2014, Vivienne Westwood and Andreas Kronthaler designed a “Save the Arctic” logo. It was launched at the Vivienne Westwood Gold Label Spring/Summer 2014 show. Stella McCartney, Chris Martin and Grayson Perry are just some of the 60 iconic celebrities wearing the T-shirt with the logo captured by award-winning photographer Andy Gotts, MBE.
Q: When designing the exhibition in Shanghai, did you have any difficulties?
A: It was a pleasure working with the staff here. I could say that they are the best workers, even though we don’t speak the same language.
Q: You also design accessories for Vivienne Westwood. What’s the characteristic of a VW accessory?
A: The design is based on its archive. The archive has no ends. Vivienne Westwood has several nice ways to express humor — sweet, nothing aggressive. Sometimes she would use some symbols that the others might never think of.