by Alain Elkann
Fashion designer Vivienne Westwood: “People have never been so poorly dressed.”
Vivienne Westwood, what state is the fashion industry in?
“I make avant-garde things, but I hear from people that there is a crisis, and that it is quite serious. I don’t know how long it will last though. But then there are still many who can spend a lot for clothing. The message I would like to send is to buy less but choose well. And this is how my collection is. I say to create small scarves, use safety pins and old fabrics. If you spend a lot on one thing and you choose well, this is the right way to do it.”
How does fashion change and who influences it?
“It is influenced by ethics, by how people see the world. Unfortunately, today everyone wears jeans. What I think is important is how one sees the world, hope, and a yearning for the past.”
What is your idea of fashion?
“Fashion is the passing of time. It has always been about constraint, volumes, and the eternal dilemma between short and long. Take the woman’s suit, for example. Today it’s not in fashion, but in fifty years, it may be back in vogue. Fashion is eclectic, though it hasn’t changed all that much for a while.”
What is fashion like today?
“It is very confused, but that is a good thing because that makes it possible topersonalise and mix ‘the ingredients.’ For example, I’ve mixed a satin or tulle petticoat with a tweed jacket and a pullover. This is a way to mix summer and winter. My husband says one should be well dressed for every occasion. If you have to go to a funeral, you need to be well dressed for that occasion.”
And what about colour? Do you love it or hate it?
“My clothes tell a story. They bring to mind, for example, Marie Antoinette or Che Guevara. Colours that have something to do with history. For example, I saw a Mantegna exhibition at the Louvre Museum, and the colours influenced my latest collection. One tries to recreate the colours of a painting, but naturally they are different on a fabric. I adore colour. I try to be neutral in the beginning but then the colour takes shape and emerges. You can love just one colour as well.”
What do you think of Italian fashion?
“Italian manufacture means quality, experience, materials that work, refinement, and versatile designers and textile workers. What happened in Italy after the war is truly incredible. Take Prato, for example, which was the capital of second-hand clothes that the Italians in the United States sent to Italy. There were so many, perhaps too many, and so they began to recycle them. And this is how the industry began in Prato.”
Does the way Italians dress clash with your ideas of fashion?
“No, but there is a big difference between the mass market and designer clothing. I find mass-market clothing to be horrible. It is not attractive, and people have never been so poorly dressed. For example, I have this little French girl that comes occasionally to walk in my shows, and she has an amazing body. She comes to London dressed in cheap clothes that are different every time, and I tell her to stop it. It’s better to buy used clothing than mass market clothes that are all the same.”
And what about jeans?
“The material is very attractive, but jeans are also a way of being too conformist. People dress very well during the week – just think of the men dressed by the best tailors. But then they wear jeans with a black jacket and shiny shoes. I find all of this to be horrid.”
How would you describe your ideal man?
“I don’t have an ideal man. It depends. I am more interested in ideas. I want to be around people that inspire me. I don’t like the type of men that do body building.”
And what about women?
“Women love fashion and want to be at their best. This is why they have respect for designers.”
Who are your customers?
“I don’t take part in society life. I am mainly focused on the environment. I know there are many people that wear my clothes. The wedding dress I made for ‘Sex and the City’ certainly made me very famous in the United States.”
What type of woman wears it best?
“A very curvy woman. They love my clothing because it highlights their curves. Take Jerry Hall, for example.”
What type of designer are you?
“I am small, but I have my company, my business. And nobody tells me what to do. I only do things I like. If it is avant-garde, very well then. I know that fashion makes people feel important and feeling important is sexy.”
What is your solution for the economic crisis?
“It would be nice if people made their own clothes, such as a mini skirt or a scarf out of a towel, for example. But I can’t turn back the hands of time, and I don’t know what will happen in the future. So what we need to do is to start to think about saving the forests. Not saving a tree means not saving a child, and things will end tragically for the world’s population.”
And what can fashion do about this?
“Fashion often stimulates the imagination. A previous collection of mine had children painted on it, and I have jungles, monkeys, and butterflies on other pieces of mine.”
Jan 18th, 2009
ABOUT ALAIN ELKANN
Alain Elkann is an author, intellectual and journalist who was born in New York,23rd March 1950. Internationally well-known, his books have been translated into languages including French, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Hebrew, Turkish and Japanese. Interview work in English includes dialogue with Prince Hassan Bin Talal of Jordan, To Be A Muslim, and The Voice of Pistoletto with the artist Michelangelo Pistoletto, published autumn 2014 by Rizzoli Ex Libris.Alain has maintained a weekly interview column for the Italian national daily newspaper La Stampa since 1989. His archive encompasses an impressive range of celebrated subjects, including award-winning writers and editors; film stars and directors; fashion designers and businessmen; artists, collectors and museum curators; politicians and diplomats; economists and historians; thinkers and human rights activists. Two books of classic interviews have been published by Bompiani.Alain teaches Jewish 20th century writers – from Franz Kafka to Primo Levi, from Philip Roth to Aharon Appelfeld – at Penn University in Philadelphia. He has lectured on art, Italian literature and Jewish studies at the Universities of Oxford, Columbia, Jerusalem and Milan’s IULM. He is President of The Foundation for Italian Art & Culture (FIAC) in New York and in 2009 Alain was awarded the prestigious Legion d’Honneur by the French Republic.All work on this site © Alain Elkann 2013/2014/2015