An Interview with Vivienne Westwood

A week before the start of London fashion week (which begins tomorrow) and a few days prior to the death of Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood sat down for a chat with BlackBook. The Grand Dame of fashion–literally these days, after Buckingham Palace bestowed the honor on the 68-year-old designer in 2006– has had a career that’s spanned decades. She brought punk to the masses back in the ’70s, when her famous bondage trousers and safety pinned t-shirts were coveted by Chelsea Art School punks, and has only seen her aesthetic influence grow in the following decades. She spoke with BlackBook in a decidedly stream of consciousness style about her work, her fears and the future of the planet.

How are you today Vivienne? Every day my duty is to understand the world that I live in. If you do that, you start to get an incredible angle on things and acquire a sense of personal progress. For example, I think meat eating has had an enormous impact on the environment and we are, as a society, destroying our habitat by encouraging this form of food greed. As human beings, my mind and your mind see the world in so many different ways. And because the world is ever changing, so are my thoughts. The pursuit of knowledge to me is the essence of my spiritual satisfaction. Without appreciating this, we could be heading for catastrophe.

As a human race? Yes, I think we are an endangered species. And my message is ‘Get a life’ even if we are the last generation that live on an earth that is actually cool enough to live on.

Cool enough in the climate change sense? Yes. We can’t just sit there, as a society, and suck it all up. We need thinkers. And if we don’t have thinkers then we have no chance.

Have the politicians failed us in your opinion? Public opinion is everything and sometimes governments actually do things in advance of public opinion. Then newspapers usually crank up the prejudices and the hysteria surrounding the issues of the day. I think most politicians are motivated by the desire to keep their jobs. It’s as simple as that. But what I don’t understand is how they don’t seem to care enough about their grandchildren and their children after that.

How have you changed your lifestyle over the years? Well I don’t eat as much meat these days because I really care a great deal about how all animals, not just farmed animals, are cared for. It’s dreadful to me when I see images of thousands of little pigs all crushed together on farms. I think it’s terrible what is allowed to go on.

Fashion Week is coming up. Are you as busy as ever? Yes, and I’m very, very busy as usual. I am very lucky in that I work so closely with my husband, Andreas Kronthaler, and he’s just the most talented person I’ve met. But he needs me as well, otherwise he’d just go off his head with the pressures. What continues to inspire you? Well art for me is a vision on the world. Every painter’s eyes for example, I believe, have had a different vision on the world. And by looking at art I try to understand the world that I live in. And by that, I mean that I understand it as a member of the human race and by looking into what the future brings. Through art you really can understand your place in the world. And it also gives you a fantastic anger as well, to the point that you don’t, as an individual, get blown away. Instead it gives you a sense of personal progress. It’s always been my personal responsibility, as a fashion designer, to understand the world that I live in. That’s the way we develop different values and why we cannot just suck up things as consumers without too much thought applied to our choices.

Are you advocating a return to punk rock ethics? Well, consumerism has developed into a state where we just suck up good and bad. Often we don’t even question anymore the difference between good and bad. It’s the truest cliche to say that you get out of life what you put in. And if we follow this course, it changes your whole value system as a human being.

What to you, is the biggest single challenge facing the human race today? Climate change. Everybody needs to think about what they are doing. People keep talking about mitigating climate change but you cannot tamper with it, and once it gets beyond a certain point nothing can stop it. It’s going to get so bad by the end of this century that there will only be a billion people left. And even them, if they carry on living like we have done, then they will directly kill each other. Or they will destroy the habitat that they’ve got and that will be the end of us. We are an endangered species! The greatest thing that ever happened were human beings. We’re amazing and yet, we’ll be gone! We all need to do something immediately to change.

Words are very important to you, right back to the T shirts you designed with slogans like Destroy on them. I believe very strongly that every time you look up a word in the dictionary you know something that you didn’t know before. To me that is a great freedom we have as human beings because you think about the meaning of this new word. And thinking is what we need!

Is that why you have a pin that says ‘I Love Crap’? I sell a T shirt that says ‘I Love Crap’ and it’s a really big selling one this season. I’m bringing out a little baby grow that says ‘I Love Crap’ on it as well.

What’s been the reaction? People really love that one! But I’m getting really worried about selling stuff like this. I don’t know what I’m doing really!

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