'fabulously, fetishistically brilliant' biography
The life of Vivienne Westwood is told as an uproarious picaresque romp by Beau Brummell's biographer
THE TELEGRAPH ★★★★★
As a practised, deft biographer, Ian Kelly has already given us flash-lit lives of Beau Brummell and Casanova - and he is thus a perfect match for the Enlightenment figure Vivienne Westwood aspires to be. …an uproarious picaresque romp through a wild and often unaccountable life. Holding a legend to account is Kelly's dilemma - and his skill. He accomplishes it…with a wit and humour all of his own.
PHILIP HOARE TELEGRAPH
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An intimate insight and cultural history in one.
A book that feels like one long, fascinating gossip session with his subject and co-author, Ian Kelly chronicles the life of the designer who has had a an unparalleled impact on British fashion . . . A thorough and fitting tribute.
[Vivienne Westwood's] use of historical reference, combined with an ability to shock even the most jaded fashion pundits, ensures her place in fashion history. This autobiography reveals the woman behind the Dame.
PHYL CLARKE IRISH TIMES
A Must Read.
The prevailing impression of Westwood that we get…in Vivienne Westwood, an autobiography written with Ian Kelly (rather than the usual ghostwritten celebrity tosh), is of a leader…As in her punk days, Westwood has tremendous influence on the way thousands of men and women choose to dress.
BEE WILSON, LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS
To categorise Vivienne Westwood as a radical, outspoken fashionista is to minimise her contribution to British style. Here is her glorious statement of glamour and true confession
A wild and inspirational journey through the life of a designer who always sought to change the world. Her advice: Make the most of yourself, follow your conscience and savour every moment.
The book is more opulent than any historical novel and a highly readable contribution to Westwood, punk, fashion and the recent history of Britain.
Everyone can have their say, fans of punk, the connoisseurs of sexual freedom, the fashion addict; Dame Vivienne has directed all the excitement of the past fifty years - and it is told here.
Provocative , entertaining and touching as well – the story of a strong woman, with the courage to change.
An entertaining mix of interviews and authorized recorded conversations of Ian Kelly with Westwood, her relatives and friends. In wonderful conversational pieces Westwood reveals her anecdotes and memories, you get an intimate look at the life of a woman who likes to create scandal - a legend that is known as far as the East and as much as the Queen and Madonna.
Packed with characters from the history of music and icons from the dazzling, yet quirky fashion world. The book is a journey into the seventies and paints a picture of an idealist. Above all it is the work of one thing: A tribute to punk - the youth culture that was born in 430 Kings Road, according to Westwood…and a tribute to Westwood. She herself is modest: "You cannot take fashion too seriously," Long live punk.
The Telegraph Continued >>
Vivienne Westwood by Vivienne Westwood & Ian Kelly, review: 'fabulously, fetishistically brilliant' The life of Vivienne Westwood is told as an uproarious picaresque romp by Beau Brummell's biographer
The Seventies may seem like another age, but it was not the decade that taste forgot. It was an era that utterly reinvented the modern world. In almost every aspect of culture, from politics to pop, the status quo was overturned. And in the fast-moving arts of music and fashion you could detect those tectonic shifts most distinctly. Bolan, Bowie and Roxy Music reconfigured the way an ordinary suburban boy such as myself could imagine the future. They evoked a retro-glamorous, science-fiction world, an epoch defined by George Melly’s Revolt into Style as a third period of pop culture, “its noisy and brilliant decadence” lighting up “the contemporary landscape as if by a series of magnesium flares”.
It is that landscape that Ian Kelly examines in Vivienne Westwood. As a practised, deft biographer, he’s already given us flash-lit lives of Beau Brummell and Casanova – and is thus a perfect match for the Enlightenment figure Vivienne Westwood aspires to be. The book is billed “as told to”, but one gets the impression it was one long stream-of-consciousness rant, careering off on an uproarious picaresque romp through a wild and often unaccountable life. Holding a legend to account is Kelly’s dilemma – and his skill. He accomplishes it by the skin of his buckskin breeches, with a wit and humour of his own.
In 1976, newly arrived at college on the outskirts of London, I’d make my pilgrimage down to the darker, emptier end of King’s Road, home to the black hole that was sex – announced by huge letters in what Kelly dubs “condom pink”. It took a lot of courage to cross that threshold. In the dim interior stood the intimidating figure of Jordan – the first person to receive an Arts Council grant for being herself. With her peroxide punk beehive, Kandinsky make-up and PVC fetish wear, Jordan was the living symbol of Westwood and Malcolm McLaren’s startling new aesthetic. Indeed, the entire staff of the shop were Warholian superstars, awaiting their 15 minutes of fame, from Chrissie Hynde and Glen Matlock to Midge Ure and Toyah Willcox.
This was, recognisably, the birth of something – though we weren’t quite sure what. Scaffolding rails were hung with jumpers which were little more than nets knitted by giants, and bondage trousers with strapped knees and zips that ran right up your backside. This was more hardware than fashion; less style than anthropology, dealing in notions of tribalism and myth; more James Frazer’s Golden Bough than Vogue editorial. Towelling flaps slung around the groin were vestigial loincloths. Tartan kilts became pleated symbols. Gender was blurred and heightened.
These clothes frightened people. I had to save up for a shirt roughly stitched together out of muslin with elongated, straitjacket sleeves and a screen-printed inverted crucifix over a swastika. It offended everyone, including me. But I wore it because Johnny Rotten did – indeed, Westwood claims she was as much the inventor of the Sex Pistols as McLaren. When Anarchy in the UK erupted, she tells Kelly, “the idea and the title were mine”. (Mr Rotten has since declared Westwood’s claim to be “audacity of the highest order”.)
Revamped as Seditionaries, the shop became even more scary. Its window was completely whited-out, and the only thing that gave it away at all was a tiny metal sign: “Clothes for Heroes”. Bowie sang that we could be heroes, just for one day. Westwood and McLaren made those dreams real. From Pirates to Buffalo girls and boys, garbed in tasselled scarves and shirts with misplaced arms and necks, we swaggered from club to club, Le Beat Route to Taboo, in one long nocturnal utopia.
I finally acquired a pair of reinvented bondage trousers from Westwood’s new shop, Nostalgia of Mud, in St Christopher’s Place. They were the single most extraordinary garment I’ve ever owned, with pockets twisted into weird angles, and knee straps which hobbled you in an oddly heroic way. I made the mistake of wearing them while cycling drunk down Old Street, with inevitable and cataclysmic results. A friend admired the rips in my knees, and told me it was part of the art.
Now Westwood has become a “climate revolutionary” – still using fashion as a political statement, in the same way as Katharine Hamnett did with her slogan T-shirts. She refuses to act her age. Arrogantly, or perhaps just correctly, she sees her work as history. “My clothes have a story,” she tells Kelly. “They have an identity. That’s why they become classics. Because they keep on telling a story.” Sometimes I dig my bondage trousers out of the wardrobe, and marvel that I ever wore them in public. It was a braver world then. And as Kelly’s fabulous, fetishistically brilliant book records, we have St Vivienne to thank for it.