A night with an architect of punk

Vivienne Westwood
Vivienne Westwood

In beauty as in other areas, consumer choices are political. With this in mind, I hot-footed along to a City Books evening at The Dome.

To launch her new diary collection; ‘Get a Life’, Vivienne Westwood was in conversation with our MP for Brighton Pavilion, the Green Party co-leader, Caroline Lucas.

Dame Viv is an icon; a celebrated fashion designer, activist and a global brand. Her work has influenced millions over five decades with a legacy far beyond anarchy in the UK.

Today, she is developing manifestos that respond to ‘the rotten financial system’ by encouraging younger generations to be freedom fighters and read books. In person, Vivienne offered potent algorithms with soundbites and aide memoirs, imploring the audience to cultivate a ‘deep curiosity’ about art, literature and culture. For her, this pursuit of culture is the opposite of consumerism.

She remains a hippie schoolteacher at heart, chiding us that punk never had a real agenda; “You can’t just jump around and look great.” Everyone laughed when she said “You can get away with anything these days, most people look absolutely awful.”

We got Haring-esque graphics to abandon fossil fuels and repeated calls to take up Ecotricity and the IOU movement. Viv cited James Lovelock and Gaia Theory and wants to unite intellectuals. Enter Caroline Lucas and an aside about Westminster pension research, to divest the fossil fuel elements. Steering irrepressible Viv is no mean feat, but Caroline kept the right light touch.

Vivienne praised Prince Charles and Cool Earth, the Nana campaigners and the anti-fracking activists in Balcombe. In her own work, she wants to both make and sell less; ‘There is too much fashion!’. To the dismay of many, she refused to discuss the business, but rhapsodised how tartan goes well with lace, velvet and brass, with a telling aside that the Victorians only invented it for tourists. These days, her mantra is ‘Buy less, choose well, make it last.’

Artistic influences were revealed in questions from the audience: Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, Prokofiev, Louis XIV. Westwood also admires great pattern cutters, suggesting that fashion talent can emerge through experience rather than tuition. Vivienne finds peace and solace reading in bed, to think and transmit ideas from brain to paper. She closed the evening with a simple plea for the planet, “We have to keep trying. And that’s it for the moment.”