Rebel with a cause – the collectable legacy of Vivienne Westwood
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When I think of the late Vivienne Westwood, the self-taught iconoclast who threw a Molotov cocktail into the London fashion scene in the ’70s and went on to become the most influential British female fashion designer in the world, I think of the 1984-85 Clint Eastwood collection. I bought a navy flight jacket with elongated knitted sleeves and body – a design she reworked constantly. It came from her iconic World’s End shop in London’s Chelsea, purchased with money my parents had allocated for a school winter coat. My father shook with fury when I returned home, confirming that I had made the right choice. I continued to buy a few pieces of Vivienne Westwood each season, from platform biker boots to denim jackets printed with cupids from an 18th-century painting by Fragonard. I still wear the Clint Eastwood jacket today; other owners have listed theirs on eBay for $6,000.
No one just “collects Vivienne Westwood”. There are distinct chapters – from the subversive punk classics detonated with partner Malcolm McLaren in the ’70s to the red-carpet luxury created in recent years with her husband Andreas Kronthaler.
Where to buy
1st Dibs, 1stdibs.com
Boheme Cambridgeshire, bohemeclothing.com
James Veloria New York, jamesveloria.com
Kerry Taylor Auctions, kerrytaylorauctions.com
Vestiaire Collective, vestiairecollective.com
What to read
Vivienne Westwood by Claire Wilcox (V&A Publications)
Vivienne Westwood: An Unfashionable Life by Jane Mulvagh (HarperCollins)
Vivienne Westwood Catwalk: The Complete Collections by Alexander Fury (Thames & Hudson)
Real obsessives – myself included – forged their relationship with the clothes through Westwood’s shaping of subculture, from the mid-’70s to the end of her “Pagan”era, in 1993. The early SEX and Seditionaries labels, from 1974 to 1980, are often collected by retired punks and artists in their 60s and older. T-shirts from the collection go for between £900 and £4,500 on Vestiaire Collective (though caveat emptor for Sex Pistols fans: the market is flooded with fakes, including pieces so convincing they allegedly made it into the Met’s 2013 punk exhibition). The New Romantic and hip-hop-inflected pieces, created before McLaren left the partnership in 1983, are catnip for those in their late 40s and 50s. Some of the most collectable work is from the early ’80s, when it had broken through to the style press, which shaped a cult around it. Those sharp-shouldered, deeply weird and wonderful Witches jackets from 1983 can go for more than £15,000. There are rarely gently priced vintage pieces from pre-mid-’90s. In 1993, Westwood differentiated her labels between Red (for a younger customer, produced until 2016) and Gold (a finer line). Anglomania, essentially a diffusion label, launched in 1998. Of these, Gold is usually the most sought after on the secondary market – a floral skirt suit is currently available on 1stDibs for $9,500.
“Collecting Westwood is about collective memory,” says Steven Philip, co-founder of vintage store Rellik, who has a vast fashion archive at his studio in Brighton, including more than 300 early and one-off runway Westwood pieces. I spoke to Philip for my book Narrative Thread: Conversations on Fashion Collections (publishing this autumn), about the garments cherished by notable designers, performers and costumiers; Westwood haunts numerous other chapters, including those with milliner Stephen Jones and Carla Sozzani of Milanese store 10 Corso Como.
The value of vintage Westwood often varies according to both scarcity and provenance. When the late Pamela Rooke, aka Jordan – Westwood and McLaren’s ’70s shop girl and star of Derek Jarman’s punk fantasia Jubilee – sold much of her archive in 2015 at Kerry Taylor Auctions, a McLaren-era “Anarchist” print shirt went for £13,000, and a 1975 hand-studded “Venus” T-shirt including a badge with a poodle hit £22,000.
Paul Gorman – Malcolm McLaren’s biographer and expert auction authenticator for McLaren and Westwood pieces – predicts prices have the potential to increase, but flags that there are many factors to take into account: “Where authenticity can be proven, the work she and Malcolm created between 1971 and their World’s End collection in 1984 will jump at least 20 to 40 per cent.” He is more circumspect about later collections: “Westwood and her business were so prolific over several decades, and the quality threshold inevitably dropped with the sale of everything from tacky jewellery to plastic shoes. This means it will also take time to gain a proper perspective on her oeuvre.”
Sought-after designs for collectors currently include pieces featuring Keith Haring (who McLaren commissioned for the Witches collection in 1983), and the giant, ragamuffin shearling coats from the year before. Corsets are also high-ticket items. “We have a lot of serious collectors who come to us for those,” says Brandon Giordano, co-founder of James Veloria vintage store in New York’s Chinatown, which is a great place to find Westwood bargains.
Collectable motifs include the squiggle print (first used for the 1981 Pirate collection) and the giant stars and spots on denim from the 1985 Mini-Crini collection. “The first thing I wanted was something with a squiggle,” says property investor Maur Valance, who created a haute-drag persona in the late ’80s and was omnipresent in London’s most fashionable clubs. He owns about 200 early Westwood items. “I bought what are now incredibly rare pieces in 1983, printed on brown lace. I don’t wear any as they are worth so much now, but I’ll never sell anything. Each was a signifier, showing who you were to the right people in discos, who knew what it meant. It was about having found my tribe.” Still is, if you ask me.
This article has been amended to reflect the origin of the squiggle print.