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October 23, 2011

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Westwood: Don't buy clothes for 6 months

DAME Vivienne Westwood's first-ever show in Asia dazzled the audience with her idiosyncratic panoply of trinket silk corset dresses, Mao caps, lace wedding gowns and vertiginous platform shoes that could only have sprung from the mind of the Mother of Punk.

The runway show on Thursday night at the Shanghai International Fashion Center in northeastern Shanghai's Yangpu District featured striking, somewhat obscure fairytale styles. Models wore white facial makeup and painted features that conveyed an otherworldly aura. Westwood's striking Gold Label and Red Carpet pieces were impeccably crafted and fitted.

After the highly successful and impressive catwalk show, I went back stage and sipped champagne with the flame-haired lady who throughout that day had eaten just one banana.

After having debuted her spring/summer 2012 man collection in Milan, Red Label in London and Gold Label in Paris, Dame Vivienne brought to Shanghai a mix of her four clothing lines, plus the capsule collection Red Carpet by Vivienne Westwood.

"When doing a fashion show, it's impossible to repeat," the legendary designer told me in an interview as she sipped champagne. "I brought something together from all my lines: a lot of evening dresses with less day wear. We've selected wonderful pieces from my favorite Gold Label and there were a lot of pieces from Red Carpet which I've never shown anywhere else.

"With all the pieces together, we just wanted to show the Vivienne Westwood look," she added.

Westwood said the models were attractive in their white "mask" makeup, adding that "you can also imagine my clothes on somebody without makeup."

Models also sported Westwood's Mao cap, one of her latest designs from the new Gold Label collection.

Her show exhibited influences from around the world and China was an important inspiration. Westwood incorporated Chinese calligraphy characters for her own name in a print taken from Chinese flower painting.

For the past 20 years, Westwood has been an ardent admirer of traditional Chinese ink-wash painting and has given it a great deal of thought. By contrast, in a lot of modern art today there isn't much skill, she said.

"I think Chinese civilization is the high point of human achievement in the last 4,000 years. To me, there was nothing more wonderful than Chinese painting," she said. "There is no progress in art. Great arts are timeless. The Chinese painting is absolutely perfect and you can't progress from something that is perfect."

She spoke philosophically and said she has reflected on Chinese painting. "How did someone ever do that? It was a miracle to me," she said. "It's a view of the world, a representation of life. There is nothing more futuristic than Chinese painting."

Unlike many other fashion designers, Westwood does not place fashion at the center of her universe. Dame Vivienne, who is now 70, spoke slowly and deliberately about decline in art, the future, the need to fight climate change and the Gaia theory (that considers Earth and all its organisms and systems to be a self-regulating whole) - not hemlines or her latest design inspirations.

Even more than a designer, she is a thinker.

I could feel her frustration at the seemingly degraded state of the art world.

"If we really have art lovers, then maybe we will have some artists," she said. "Young people nowadays are succumbing to fads and the latest things. They are being brainwashed completely to think the past doesn't count. They are not engaged with the world they live in."

She said she is distressed by the problem of climate change but is not just wringing her hands.

"I am being very practical about it, I'm raising money to save the rainforest," she said. "My most eco-friendly solution is the mantra I keep repeating - I tell people not to buy any clothes for six months. For myself, I still wear clothes from 10 years ago.

"Buy less, choose well, make it last.

"The only possible growth is through quality, instead of quantity. I'm trying to reduce the number of items in each of our collections and keep the quality," she said.

The future is troubling and Westwood believes the current financial crisis will get much worse.

Looking back at more than four decades in fashion, she said it was not her greatest love.

"I didn't want to do fashion for at least 15 years, I did it because I was good at it and I thought it was my duty to do it," she said. "When you are very good at something, you want people to recognize it, and I will still carry on."

"Apart from that, I didn't really like it (fashion) and I always wanted to read my books," she said.

Westwood currently is reading a lot about climate change, including a book by British scientist and environmentalist James Lovelock who proposed the Gaia (after the Greek goddess of the Earth) hypothesis of a biosphere as a self-regulating entity that can keep the planet healthy.

"I've gained a lot from reading his book. People must find out about this Gaia theory," she said.

Dame Vivienne is known for leading a very full life.

"My only regret is that I would like to be born today," she told me. "I want to be the last person in the world. I want to know what is going to happen."


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