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Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the joker of them all?

The fictional character of ‘The Joker’ portrayed onscreen by Heath Ledger finally has serious competition. Nah, not Batman but better still a real living joke who’s played kinky and flouted every rule in the glitterati arena of international fashion. Don’t blame me if a certain Grande Dame comes into your picture frame when you read the ‘oh-so famous’ Joker’s quotes from the motion picture ‘The Dark Knight’.

‘Hello, ladies and gentlemen. Meet today's entertainment - Vivienne Westwood’

Born Vivienne Isabel Swire in Glossop, Derbyshire, 8 April 1941, her mother was a weaver and her father, a shoemaker. After the war, they ran a sub post office in Tintwistle and in the late 1950s moved to north-west London. Vivienne studied fashion and silver-smithing at Harrow Art College before dropping out after a term college because she didn't know how a working-class girl like her could possibly make a living in the art world. She went on to become a primary school teacher. She married Derek Westwood in 1962 and her first son was born a year later.

‘You see, madness, as you know, is like gravity. All it takes is a little push!’

As fate declared, ‘Convention doesn’t sit pretty on Dame Vivienne’s dainty shoulders’, her marriage to Derek ended in 1965. It was the same year she met Malcolm McLaren and their son Joseph Ferdinand Corré was born the following year.  McLaren was that little push that got Vivienne back into the art groove.

‘You complete me’

In Vivienne’s own words reminiscing her fateful meeting with McLaren - 'I felt there were so many doors to open, and he had the key to all of them. Plus, he had a political attitude and I needed to align myself.' Malcolm and she were true soul mates in more ways than one.  Together they used culture to create trouble first on the streets on London and then onto the ramps several years later. They shared combustible working relationship which lasted from 1970 till 1983.

‘Introduce a little anarchy. Upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I’m an agent of chaos.’

Originator of Punk in the seventies in UK, Vivienne was a force to reckon with from the word ‘go’. Making humble beginnings with a store appropriately called ‘Let it Rock’ along with Malcolm in 1971, they popularized Teddy bear clothes and everything which had elements of the ‘Rock and Roll’ spirit symbolizing the Punk subculture. The store went through many transitions alongside the various social movements England witnessed. And so the store went onto to be named ‘Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die (1972), Sex (1974), and Seditionaries (1977) and finally World's End (from 1980 till date).

 

‘The only sensible way to live in this world is without rules’

A modern day Eve, Vivienne couldn’t resist sinking her teeth into the forbidden apple. And so she disobeyed with élan, pooh-poohing the traditional British prissiness as she paraded around seductively and propaganded rebellious wear ranging from pornographic graffiti, rubber clothing, ripped garments of 1950s pin-ups; the leather, chains and badges of the bikers, the straps and buckles of the fetishists and sadomasochists, etc.

‘We made it’

Vivienne boldly declared, 'Craft must have clothes but Truth loves to go naked'. Naked-truth on the ramp did she sashay in for the first time in 1981 with her ‘Pirate’ collection. Needless to say, the show was a runaway success and she entered mainstream fashion with a bang.

‘Tonight you're all gonna be part of a social experiment. Through the magic of diesel fuel and ammonium nitrate, I'm ready right now to blow you all sky high.’

Vivienne’s ammunition was her imagination which simply blew the fashionistas sky high on a rollercoaster ride to Heaven and Hell and back. Her ideas were fresh, novel and thought provoking. Her versatility was the hallmark of her various collections down the line – be it the ‘Britain must go pagan’ collection to the very recent ‘Blue Sky’ collection where she’s taken a full circle returning to ‘free form cutting’ a la ‘Pirate’ collection. Sex is fashion to her and it is unabashedly celebrated in all her creations right from her clothes to her footwear. She started the trend of showing bare-chested models on the ramp, underwear as outerwear such as showing bras worn over dresses. She stepped back in time to the Victorian era and revived the ‘Crinoline’ and ‘Corset’ recreating wearable versions of the same. Remember the ‘Minicrini’ skirt? Thanks to her, she transformed Corsets from a symbol of restriction to that of female empowerment and sexuality.

See, I'm not a monster. I'm just ahead of the curve.’

To define her sense of style would be akin to defining ‘The Joker’. To some it’s demented, deranged and antiestablishment just like the Joker. And to others, it’s amusing, original, cheeky, satirical and a genius, like the Joker.

She’s ahead of the rest because she cares for the past. As she rightly says, ‘It’s so important to look at the past. Because people did have taste and they did have ideals of excellence, and those things are not going to come unless people look at the past’. Her inspirations spawn from the pagan Greek mythology, the French art collection by Lord Hertford and François Boucher, traditional British fabrics and tailoring, the Scottish ‘Tartan’, Tudor portraits, furniture of Andre Charles Boulle, the 18th century ‘sack back’ style, literary works of H.G.Wells, the Indian tradition of worshipping Mother Earth amongst others.  In short, her inspirations change all the time. What remains constant is that ingenious Vivienne panache she brings onto the ramp with every collection season in and season out.

'You have nothing, nothing to threaten me with. Nothing to do with all your strength’

Today, Vivienne Westwood is an established brand with four major lines catering to different segments of the society: Vivienne Westwood Gold Label, Red Label, Man Menswear and a denim collection ‘Anglomania’. She has 20 stores in Asia, 5 in England, 1 in New York and an upcoming one in Los Angeles. Topping with numerous awards and fragrance collections adorning her kitty, Westwood has left her competition far behind.

From the streets of London & Tokyo to the red carpets romanced by the crème, the Vivienne influence is everywhere. Be it the yesteryears’ Sex Pistols and Boy George or today’s Lady Gaga, Gwen Stefani or even the timeless Madonna, that magical Westwood influence is unmistakably conspicuous.

‘It's not about money... it's about sending a message.’

Vivienne is an iconoclastic heavyweight to reckon with in the UK. Be it a collection which was a spoof on British royalty or going knicker-less when she received her OBE award from Queen Elizabeth or spreading awareness about climate change, she wears her head on her sleeve.

Integrating fashion, art, literature, social movements under her brand, this Grande Dame of Global fashion is into fashion by no mere fate. She is here for a noble cause - a vehement purpose to change the world through artistic sensibility and pass that whimsical legacy to the future generations.

Long Live, The Joker!

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