Disobedient Bodies!

TODAY we caught JW Anderson’s exhibition, ‘Disobedient Bodies,’ at the Barbara Hepworth, Wakefield. Very soon I shall be sending off for one of his jumpers but I need to tell you a little story first!!

Anderson has curated an eclectic show making exciting links between styles we currently wear close to our hearts and body shapes from works by Hepworth and Henry Moore, his favourites I’m told.

Then something happened. A two year old girl in tasteful pink, walking confidently between exhibits, suddenly caught sight of my top! She cried out twice, making a slight terrified sound! I said to her father, a step behind her, “My Vivienne Westwood’s frightened her!” We both laughed. It’s good to know the old girl can still hack it!


Below Anderson’s international Loewe collection next to Barbara Hepworth plasters. Children are encouraged to play with giant knitwear hanging 20feet in the air and students are invited to design their own ranges, shown next to Issey Miyake models. And everywhere happy  babies, toddlers and absorbed teenagers, mostly unaware of frightening punk clowns displayed on avid art lovers!


Suzy Menkes and zeitgeist at the museum

Vivienne Westwood and Anglomania at the Met!

Secrets, hidden in my story of  Vivienne Westwood and museum culture, have been picked up by the New York Times!  Such fun.  Suzy Menkes, the most important Fashion commentator in the world, who  agreed to answer questions when we once met, at the V&A, writes magnificently on the passionate liaison of Art and Fashion in galleries across the globe.

Saying, ‘The explosion of museum exhibitions is only a mirror image of what has happened to fashion itself this millennium. With the force of technology, instant images and global participation, fashion has developed from being a passion for a few to a fascination — and an entertainment — for everybody, ‘ she  picks  up what ‘FASHION MEDIA PROMOTION the new black magic‘ is about.  It’s wonderful to know that someone, like Suzy Menkes, can feel as I do about Fashion and the people who work in it.

 ‘FASHION MEDIA PROMOTION the new black magic’   is about the promotion of Fashion and the collision of Art and Commerce in the service of Fashion.

It is also about how Vivienne  Westwood’s association with the anarchist McLaren confuses critics, and her training, which was not in a fashionable Art school, gave the Fashion establishment an opportunity to see her as an outsider, until she was discovered by ‘Vogue.’

Of course, the merging of Art and Fashion in galleries, visited by millions, is zeitgeist.  Suzy Menkes may not have seen my book, but I can dream, can’t I? Perhaps I’d know for sure,  if I’d taken up her offer and sent her that email!



Left:  Vivienne Westwood and Anglomania at the Met!



Paris, Spring 2010, I thought, the one person I know who lives here,  I might see, and recognise, is Malcolm McLaren.

So I was sorry for more than one reason to hear about his death, on that Friday morning. Not just because there would be no chance encounter in, say, Café Flore. I was sad because I had discovered he was more than just a 1970s anarchist. He was important to Fashion.

I bought Malcolm McLaren’s version of Madame Butterfly in 1984 for my mother. We both loved it. It was a re-mix, orchestrated, dance number which caught all the sadness of Puccini’s original.

Until 2007 I didn’t think about him, unless I heard his music. Then I began writing about Christian Dior’s New Look for ‘FASHION, MEDIA, PROMOTION ‘the new black magic’.

He wasn’t mentioned at the V&A’s 2007 haute couture conference, commemorating the return of Fashion to Paris, and London, in 1947, but radio producer, Susan Marling asked McLaren to present an anniversary show, for her, about Dior’s surprising success.

She was lucky to pin him down as by this time he was sharing his life with partner, the Korean American, Young Kim, in Paris and New York, and seemed hardly around either on website or his home city of London.

For the broadcast McLaren took us with him, to a stunning commemorative bash being held in Versailles near to Paris. Susan Marling could not have made a more fun choice.

McLaren’s witty approach was perfect for the camp, baroque, OTT, extravagant, unrepentantly decadent affair. McLaren described the party, in the Orangerie, in the Tuilleries Gardens, where the House of Dior’s 2007 collection was being shown.

It was seen as the most fabulous Fashion event of the year, to which they had ‘all been invited’.   By 2007 McLaren obviously saw himself as a member of the exclusive international Fashion set; people like Elsa Schiaparelli’s granddaughter Marisa Berenson, Mick Jagger, Jerry Hall, Anna Wintour.

He said the $2 million worth of flamboyance, flamenco dancers and fireworks would have ‘amused the Sun King himself.’

The collection, celebrating Art from Michelangelo to Cocteau, had John Galliano, Dior’s chief designer, taking inspiration from Goya’s Spanish dancers, Picasso’s harlequins and the Muses of the Impressionist and Modern painters; ‘many of whom were friends of Christian Dior himself,’ McLaren told us.

Susan Marling had invited him to present the show knowing he was a student of Fashion, and especially a student of Dior. Learning more about him as I reviewed Vivienne Westwood’s exhibition, V&A 2004-2010, which was attracting record crowds, from Dusseldorf to Bangkok, I realised how important McLaren was to her career.

Westwood is a  woman who grew up with a fierce intellectual curiosity. There is some doubt whether this hunger would have been satisfied without her lucky meeting with Malcolm McLaren. He was in a permanent state of revolution against his background.

Whatever the facts, his family certainly owned and ran a Fashion manufacturing company,  in London, and he went to various Art schools.  So here are the roots for questioning and dissent, but also for looking and seeing style.  His rebelliousness fascinated Westwood.  She said ‘Malcolm’s a one-off,’ and it was their passion for clothes which united them.

Jon Savage, in an interview for The Face in January 1981, said McLaren’s anti-authoritarianism was a guiding principle but he effortlessly combined this with a love of Fashion, saying, ‘It’s the thing that makes my heart beat.’ Westwood affirmed: ’Malcolm has always been totally fascinated by clothes. They’re the most important thing in his life, really’.

When Westwood opened her touring retrospective exhibition in her home county of Derbyshire, in Sheffield, in 2008 she told the gallery curators and a television crew, filming the event, that it was Malcolm who had invented the underwear as outerwear idea. It is recorded that even though they had decided to specialise separately, him on music and her on Fashion, in the early 1980s, she was still being guided by him on ways to make the Pirate collection work.

It was this collection by being seen in Fashion magazines, which attracted buyers. The Media began to take an interest in the alternative, non-Fashion trained, Westwood who had begun her career assisting an anarchist; making clothing with political rather than commercial intent.

Westwood may not have known how much their obsession with Fashion would become the backbeat to the rest of her own professional life. She describes McLaren’s encouragement, as they created the bleached, razored, prototype Punk hair, meant to have influenced David Bowie, saying, ‘He took me by the hand and made me more stylish.’

The V&A Vivienne Westwood retrospective set off from the Pennine hills, in winter 2008, once again on its overseas journeys to set bells ringing on cash tills around the Pacific Rim. Whatever Westwood and McLaren set out to do, politically, in the 1970s they could not have realised how their project would grow to become a dynamic 21st century commercial success; and that an academically inspired exhibition, celebrating their vision, would travel round the world continually on view for more than five years.

To me MM is a Fashion rebel, an avant garde innovator. Fashion cannot progress or develop without these mavericks. They are necessary to shake up the establishment, to inspire designers and Fashion lovers. There are very few in any generation Anna Piaggi, Italian Vogue, Isabella Blow, Anna Wintour’s muse, Elsa Schiaparelli, Andy Warhol are people who prepare Fashion for the world by moving from the real to the imaginary in extreme directions. Malcolm McLaren was one of these rare creatives.

Image: FASHION MEDIA PROMOTION: the new black magic

Fashion fighting back with magicians in the marketplace

Will Hutton is in awe of business directors, holding onto their creative forces, as he flags up the surprising success of Britain’s current fight back towards economic fitness. They are supporting and building the knowledge economy, cutting out the need for expensive re-recruitment programmes. (Financial Times, Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010)

The Fashion industry is sometimes accused of not valuing its talent. Unless Angela McRobbie, Colin McDowell, Alexandra Shulman and others were not constantly campaigning, to support Fashion designers, Britain would continue to lose out to Europe with the disappearance of top people, like Stella McCartney, to French and Italian labels.

Our Fashion schools are prized worldwide for their ability to produce cultural capital but we often do not invest in it. From my researches, for ‘Fashion, Media, Promotion, the new black magic,’ I discover that Fashion’s movers and shakers act as magicians in the marketplace, at the heart of healthy retailing.

Fashion designers are more closely involved with human beings than architects. They are concerned with the roles the wearers, of their clothes, will enact. Their creative process surrounds how people feel. They plan lives for their wearers quite separately from thinking of marketing campaigns.

They may know something of their customers, from market research, but they work as artists, like playwrights or script editors. They envisage how a person will behave, wearing the clothes. In their imaginations they are seeing the lives others lead.

The scenarios, with costumes, Fashion designers put together include ‘exit detail.’ Christian Dior may have wanted to make money for his patron, the fabrics’ giant, Marcel Boussac, but in his mind’s eye his clothes were for ‘flower women’. Schiaparelli spent some of her working life fighting for copyright protection, but she designed clothes which fed creative imaginations, so everyone wanted a piece of the action. Mary Quant was so impressed with the youthful people, around her, whether doctors’ or dockers’ daughters, that she researched fabrics to make their lives easier and more eventful.

Vivienne Westwood believes her clothes enhance the beauty in each woman who wears them. Anna Sui’s designs are thought of as cute. Thematic, whimsical, she makes her clothes for a loyal fan base who see themselves as ‘hip’ and ‘exuberant.’ Her style, which is neither household name nor ‘dewy upstart,’ means she is able to design for those same friends, and colleagues who have been with her from the start. Marc Jacobs likes to think his followers, even if they are behaving like single-minded materialists, can be made to look like cultivated lovers of society.

At the beginning of the 21st century which depends, for trade, on innovation and creativity, we must recognise the importance of Art, and the Design sector, towards this progress. As the ‘Financial Times’ is signalling the importance of our cultural assets, and their guardians, it would be foolish to ignore the writing on the wall.