Vivienne Westwood On Climate Change, Publishing A Book And Why She Thinks Leggings Are Vulgar: EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

14 March 2013

How delighted were we when Vivienne Westwood invited Grazia Daily to see the winning design in Greenpeace’s ‘Flag for the Future’ competition? Umm, very. Read on to find out what happened when fashion writer Nick Barron met the Dame...

“I don’t want to be too bossy, but I just know that somebody’s got to organise it a bit!” Dame Vivienne Westwood is busily arranging us around the design table in her bright South London studio, having invited Grazia Daily here to see the winning design in Greenpeace’s ‘Flag for the Future’ competition, for which entrants were asked to design an official flag promoting the ‘Save the Arctic’ campaign that will be planted on the North Pole sea bed. The aim is to raise awareness of the campaign’s objectives - to create a global sanctuary in the international waters around the North Pole and to ban offshore oil drilling and unsustainable fishing in the Arctic. The competition’s head judge? Dame Viv.

Images courtesy of ©Vicki Couchman/Greenpeace

You’d be right in thinking this doesn’t necessarily sound like a high fashion day out, but any excuse to get inside Westwood HQ and speak to the lady herself is not to be missed. In person, she’s a bit brilliant – funny, smart and just the right amount of indiscreet (at one point she lets slip about a massive, and top secret, upcoming project – cue her assistant having what looks like an aneurysm as Dame Vivienne innocently adds, “Oh, we’re not supposed to talk about it…”) She is also thoroughly engaging and listening to her discuss climate change in her gentle Derbyshire accent makes me determined to curb my disposable fashion habits. And switch off more lights.
Along with being on the button when it comes to big issues, DV (Dame Viv) is also incredibly warm and endearing, like your granny or favourite old aunt, only one suspects that, unlike your elderly relatives, she’s wearing wacky eyeliner and two pairs of trousers on purpose. She’s also sporting the T-shirt she has designed exclusively for the Greenpeace campaign, of which she’s rather proud.

Images courtesy of ©Vicki Couchman/Greenpeace 

“I think this says everything – it’s got a heart-shaped world and on the North Pole there’s this flag of peace. I think you get the idea because, if we don’t save the Arctic, we will not stop climate change and it has to be done now, else we’ve got no chance.”

We’re getting very used to hearing DV discuss environmental issues whenever possible - she recently blasted the Duchess of Cambridge for not recycling her outfits enough - and she admits she now uses her brand as much to promote her agenda as to sell clothes. “I use it as a vehicle because I’m well known and I have a credibility in this fashion world after all this time,” she tells me. “It’s got to a point where a collection is not at all about ‘Save the Arctic,’ but we superimposed this idea on what was, in fact, this season a medieval inspiration.”
Of course DV’s collections have always been more than just something to put on your back. As a pioneer of the punk movement, which has inspired this year’s Met Ball and the accompanying exhibit featuring Westwood’s designs, the message behind her clothes has always been key, but she doesn’t necessarily find that her peers share her passion.

Images courtesy of ©Vicki Couchman/Greenpeace

“I talk to fashion designers and say I want some money to save the rainforest and they say, ‘Oh, I agree with you completely Vivienne. Yes, climate change, it’s definitely happening,’ but they don’t feel that they can do anything about it, they don’t even think ‘Well let’s stop it!’” Sadly, she doesn’t name and shame the eco-unfriendly fashionistas of whom she speaks, but does she think the industry can help the cause on a wider scale?
“I’ve agreed to be on the panel of [a discussion] promoted by Vogue next month and that’s what they want to know. I’m trying to cut down on the quantity. I think we have too much product because that’s the way of the fashion industry – your main collection loses money, you subsidise it, and everything filters into your second lines and handbags and all this stuff.”
Surely, though, the point of a fashion house is to keep churning out new ‘stuff’ to sell? DV is not so sure anymore. “I have too much product and I’m trying to rein it in and sell more of my main collection. I wish you didn’t have to design so often, it would be good if you could keep on selling the same things for a few years and not have to do new things all the time. For me [the idea] is to try to cut down on the quantity and to make everything quality.”
To buy less, but to buy quality is DV’s long-held maxim (as well as the way she neatly sidesteps the tricky question of how a person who runs a luxury goods company can ask people, including her customers, to consume less). Disposable fashion – “I don’t call that fashion, all that stamped out stuff” – is one of her pet peeves and she gets rather heated over the way some young women dress today (WARNING: fans of leggings, look away now).

Images courtesy of ©Vicki Couchman/Greenpeace

“It’s quite shocking actually how some people look! [They’ve got] these tights on, black tights with bare feet. They would look less vulgar and less pornographic if they were nude! Nudity is quite beautiful but these tights are so rude and vulgar and awful. I think it’s a horrible look, those little cheap dresses and these black tights underneath and bare feet and there she is pushing a pram down the street. They don’t look nice!”
It’s at this point I consider how much fun a book written by DV could be, a feeling that is compounded when we’re introduced to her co-judge, a young Girl Guide called Aishah, whose age Dame Viv asks about (she’s 15). “And do you think you’ll grow taller?”, replies DV. “I mean, you’re never going to be that big, are you?!” So I am delighted when Vivienne tells me she will indeed be publishing a book based on her ‘Get a Life’ blog and composed of diary entries, essays and even a few recipe ideas. Yes, forget fasting for two days a week, DV even has your diet sorted. “I eat only vegetables and fruit and to me it’s the most aspirational diet because it’s so easy. It’s quite simple the cooking I do. I keep a grater [in the studio] and just have something raw in the evening, a big salad.”
So it seems that, having dealt with Kate Middleton, DV could now stake a claim on sister P-Middy’s turf as a celebrity lifestyle author. The difference? Dame Viv has a strong point of view and an incredible ability to make you believe in what she stands for. If you’re not currently recycling old copies of Grazia and re-thinking that £10 top you’ll wear once and throw out, I highly recommend spending a little time in DV’s world.

by Nick Barron of


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