Thursday, 4 August 2016

The Marmite of Vivienne Westwood


I can't remember exactly when I bought this authorised biography, but I finished reading it about three months ago - ending up even more confused about the enigma of its subject than before I started.

Vivienne Westwood first filtered to the forefront of my consciousness via a 2012 article about her save the rainforest campaign. Sheltered, I know. Obviously, I had heard of her before then, but I hadn't fully appreciated the weight of her fashion gravitas, her pivotal role in shaping the cultural landscape, her on-going activism. I bookmarked her in my mind as someone to come back to and learn from at a later date. 

So this biography, co-authored by the great lady herself, was always going to be on my reading list. I began it with a deferential, rose-tinted appreciation for her aura. Her age made her an especially appealing icon to read a biography about - I assumed I would be exposed to all kinds of life-lessons: little tidbits of wisdom, neatly packaged within anecdotes and bite-sized observations. What I got was an assault of unapologetic brilliance, lurching around an impossibly vibrant and passionate personal landscape - eccentric, inspiring, maybe even egotistical.

There is something wildly unaccountable and contradictory about Dame Vivienne Westwood: anti-establishment, yet embraced by the British honours system; anti-capitalist eco-warrior, yet founder and face of a lucrative global fashion empire; wife and philosopher; movement-maker and Grandmother. And all with a level of confidence and conviction in the right-ness of her views and causes that is both awe-inspiring and a little... irritating...? Even the way she stares out from the cover is challenging to me. Her gaze seems utterly unflinching - self-contained, slightly confrontational, kind.

I read this book cover to cover and I still don't know quite what Vivienne Westwood stands for.

But this week I've had a revelation. For reasons I won't go into, I've felt a little on the outside of 'how I'm supposed to be' - that I don't quite fit the mould, that I'm not quite the right sort of woman. I, too, feel like a contradiction. And I've realised why, for me, Vivienne Westwood is - in fact - a legend.

Dame Vivienne Westwood comes across as someone who has made an art-form of being entirely herself. It seems like she has explored her interests, her beliefs, her abilities and put them all to work, without reference to anyone else's agenda. She has learnt from others, but she stands for herself: as is. She is the common denominator, tying together those disparate attributes, achievements and ideas. 

Take it or leave it. Like it or lump it.

"The challenge is to be yourself 
in a world that is trying to make you like 
everyone else."

E.E Cummings

Vivienne Westwood appears to have mastered that challenge, intuitively, throughout her long and varied life. There is so much to be said for that.

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