Can you reasonably rage against the machine when you are a highly profitable cog in it? This is an obvious paradox inherent in Dame Vivienne Westwood’s policy of using her shows as a podium from which to preach about the iniquities of mass consumerism and fossil fuel dependence. Her valiant pitch at squaring that circle is the exhortation “to buy less things that are better made and last longer,” a sentiment that, while impossible to disagree with, doesn’t quite carry when delivered in the backstage hubbub immediately before a show of seasonal fashion. Nonetheless, this evening’s Vivienne Westwood Red Label carnival was a corker.
Held in a basement space grippingly advertised outside as an “Alien Sex Club,” the runway was overlooked by a balcony on which gathered a band of paper-crowned model/protestors holding banners hostile to politicians and shale gas extraction. The soundtrack was, quite frankly, hellish—a cacophony of sirens and garble through which occasionally stirring dialogue could be heard, including the weary line: “Fashion is ridiculous, a pathetic parody of what it used to be.” After the last look walked, the protesters descended behind Westwood. Everyone in the room dutifully took pictures, then realized they had no signal. The most piquant contradiction in this show was how incompatible the collection seemed with the rhetoric around it. Because while the styling was absolutely maverick—all smeared robber-mask eyes and sleep-in-a-tree hair—there is no other way to describe the clothes than with the C-word: conservative.
Prettily ruched frocks—frocks!—in lace came layered with sweet scarlet florals. Knee-length tea dresses were delicately cut and spattered with Marimekko-touched patterns. Layered embroideries in manor-house interior reliefs were layered around their wearers like professionally piped icing. Yes, there was the odd proselytizing button or T-shirt emblazoned with a meaningful carbon footprint, but subtract these—and perhaps alter some of the more laissez-bare necklines—and you could imagine the Duchess of Cambridge or Samantha Cameron appropriately shaking hands with the CEO of Shell in a great many of these looks. It was as if the Sex Pistols were covering Maroon 5—and it was good. Written by Luke Leitch for Vogue.com