The Vivienne Westwood autumn/winter 2019-20 show took place yesterday in London. As an activist, I wholeheartedly loved the subverting of a powerful tool of commerce to deliver an urgent message. Unlike some other recent attempts of fashion-show-as-a-demontration, this one to me had substance. (And it pissed off the reviewer from Vogue, so that’s something.) As a wearer of Westwood, I adored the clothes, some of them from past collections. As a sustainability scholar, however, I am conflicted. Westwood has proven over many years that her concerns are genuine. Her message is only intensifying and I applaud her for that. Here is my beef: I am not convinced that Vivienne Westwood the company embodies the values extolled by Vivienne Westwood the activist-designer. On a personal level, having worn Westwood for a long time, I’ve observed both a dilution of the quality of design ideas, and a decrease in quality in some garments over the past decade. A large part of the decision to buy a shirt happens between my finger tips, and several Westwood shirts in the past few years did not pass that test. My fingers rejected the cloth. More than that, however, I don’t see a sufficient shift from fashion business-as-usual in how the company operates. There simply isn’t enough concrete information on the company website to demonstrate beyond doubt that the company is walking the talk. Instead, it seems more or less like any other fashion business, part of the source of the problems that the show highlighted. Activism cannot be limited to the runway: there is a giant missed opportunity for the company to reimagine its value system and redirect its operations such that the company genuinely transforms its corner of the global fashion system. To me the solution is simple conceptually, though not easy to execute (few good things are): model Vivienne Westwood the company after Vivienne Westwood the activist-designer. I am not the first to point this chasm out; Ruby Veridiano wrote about it for Remake last year. Vivienne Westwood and Carlo D’Amario, if you read this, I would love to have this conversation with you.
And because it’s fashion, and in fashion we are deeply superficial, here are the outfits (via Vogue) I would loot to wear to watch the end of the world. Except it’s already ending and my closet is already sufficiently westwooded.