from the mouth of dame vivienne westwood

there’s an exhibition on at san francisco’s de young museum honoring the 36 years of innovative sartorial work by dame vivienne westwood, the famed british fashion designer and doyenne of punk rock fashion (meaning, for those not in the know, she’s one of the creators behind that now ubiquitous costume). known for her racy, intelligent riffs on historical fashion, westwood has been behind many a trend in years gone by, like tubular knitwear, corsetry, platform shoes, and pirate looks, to name but a very few.

the dame herself was in san fran this past weekend, to open the show and celebrate her body of work with local glitterati.

(sara stockbridge in vivienne westwood, 1987.)

on sunday march 4th, vivienne spoke to the students at the academy of art university, and she gave advice to the fashion and art students that attend the school:

“If you want to be a fashion designer, don’t look at fashion magazines. Don’t care about them. Look at costume.”

absolutely!! sound advice for aspiring fashion designers, miss viv

and i’d suggest, sound style advice for “normal” folk too!

want to find your style center? keep your eyes open, be inspired by all that you see but don’t let fashion mags or celebrities be the only source you turn to when you mold your style statements…

follow your inner muse, make your own interpretation! what comes from inside you may be even more amazing, and so much less derivative than unquestioningly accepting what’s already around…and it could even be potentially groundbreaking.


  1. Mallory

    The V&A in London had a Vivienne Westwood exhibit when I was there during summer 2004….it was so amazing and inspiring. That whole trip lit a fire in me, and the Westwood exhibit definitely played a role in sparking my creative juices back to life.

  2. josi

    Actually, I disagree that designers should look to costumes… and it is that exact attitude which creates the sort of fashion I despise — overly “artsy” and completely unwearable in real life. I want to design clothing that everyday women can love, wear and afford. The wealthy already have legions desigining for them, but it wasn’t until Mizrahi that the masses were treated to the same.

    I want to design clothing that makes a 40-year old mom of 3 feel sexy and hip, and approaching it from a costuming standpoint will only push her away… she’s not being followed by photogs, she’s being followed by a four year old with peanut butter on his hands.

    Instead, I would suggest that fashion designers turn to the Grey’s Anatomy Handbook (the teaching book that the TV show stole its name from). I would suggest that designers become acquainted with musculature and bone structure, and be required to hand-sketch all sorts of bodies, and not just the super thin and angular gals used in flats.

  3. tricia

    josi: points taken. however, i interpreted westwood’s advice as not turning to current fashion magazines for ideas because it makes for DERIVATIVE fashion that way, no originality. i believe, as i think westwood does (from seeing the exhibit) that you can look back at history, fixate on a detail, and interpret that detail in a modern and often wearable way.

    i feel that a fine line must be struck between art and practicality…i am a BIG believer in that which is practical, yet aesthetically pleasing. it’s a difficult line to tow, and those who can do it, bravo. those are the type of people i celebrate, and the type of person and designer i strive to be.

    and yes…designers SHOULD have a sense of bone and muscular structure. of that, i wholeheartedly agree…i’m actually sad that we didn’t get more into that aspect when i was studying the subject at parsons. but 3 semesters, surprisingly, is not a tremendously long period of time and so much was left out.

  4. Paper Dolly Girl

    That exhibit looks great! My sister is visiting in a couple weeks, and I was going to take her to the Masterpieces of French Jewelry at the Legion of Honor. We are also definitely going to the Westwood exhibit too. I think you’ve inspired me to just buy a student membership to the museums so I can go more often. SF really does get some wonderful exhibitions, and I haven’t been taking advantage of it enough.

    I have been so busy with school, but I also wanted to add that the embroidery hoops with Liberty fabric you posted a few days ago was really inspiring! I love the idea of a moveable, mutable gallery of fabrics.

  5. S.

    I have almost given up on fashion magazines for various reasons…
    I don’t want to be dictated to. I know what I like and what looks best on me.
    They make me want stuff when I already have stuff.
    They are expensive and collect dust.
    For my reading enjoyment, they do nothing.

    They are glossy and alluring though!

    Yes, I love costume. For every day, small details from costume and periods can inspire so very much.

  6. Natalie

    I actually plan on attending the Academy of Art University in fall, so I think it is really amazing that people like Vivienne Westwood will possibly be speaking or reaching out to us…