Go See: Vivienne Westwood Retrospective at FIT

A new exhibit at The Museum at FIT focuses on designer Vivienne Westwood’s work during the 1980s, which took her from the London punk scene of the ‘70s to the runways of the ‘90s.

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A new exhibit at The Museum at FIT focuses on designer Vivienne Westwood’s work during the 1980s – the decade that brought the British designer’s work from the London punk scene of the ‘70s, to the runways of the ‘90s. Above, a tear sheet from a 1982 edition of Vogue Italia features the romantic looks that bridged the gap.
Jenni Avins
The Co-Curators: Audrey Chaney (left) and Emma Kadar-Penner (right), both graduate students of Fashion and Textile Studies at FIT, said they fell in love with Westwood’s designs as they researched the clothing through archived magazines and the wearable arts collection at FIT. The pictures that follow are their favorite picks.
Jenni Avins
Kadar-Penner (who was wearing a long striped knit dress) said she would most love to wear the printed cotton dress pictured above. The dress is from a 1982 collection for World’s End, the boutique and label Westwood shared with partner Malcom McLaren – the famous manager of bands like the Sex Pistols and the New York Dolls.
Jenni Avins
Chaney said that, “of course,” it would be a dream to wear the leather, lamé, and tulle “Statue of Liberty” ensemble pictured above.
Jenni Avins
The corset was an important element of Westwood’s work throughout the ‘80s, which alternatively hugged the body, and fell loosely in romantic billows. Pieces like this corset, from 1988, were especially well suited to the athletic physique that was fashionable at the time.
The “mini-crini” was another signature Westwood shape that employed historical construction – here a model is pictured in one of Westwood’s abbreviated hoop skirts.
Jenni Avins
Underwear as outerwear was another important look of the ‘80s, and if this 1982 ensemble is any indication, it’s possible no one did it better than Vivienne Westwood.
Jenni Avins
Westwood also made menswear, like the two-piece suit pictured above. Although the medieval-inspired color-blocking demonstrates the heavy influence of English culture, the suit also has padding often associated with skateboarders of the ‘80s…
...as pictured here.
Laura Levine
Many of Westwood’s fans, like Boy George, pictured above in her signature squiggle prints, wore the clothes in an androgynous, unisex fashion.
Jenni Avins
This jacket, in an interesting twist, has buttons that celebrate a certain feature of the male anatomy – designed by none other than jewelry designer Tom Binns.
Jenni Avins
Westwood’s collections also included shoes. These boots carried the soft, romantic look of her Buffalo collection (featured in the first slide), and also remind us of the distressed Fiorentini + Baker boots so popular today.
Jenni Avins
The “Rocking Horse” boots were named for their rolled toe, which allowed the wearer to stand en pointe, like a ballerina. Their spare design and wooden sole demonstrate the influence that Japanese design had on Westwood. “They are ever so subtle," she said of these shoes.
Jenni Avins
“I think the only change possible is for the worst,” Westwood was quoted as saying in the ‘80s. “I must explore the past (tradition and technique) in order to get back into the main river of scholarship.” This look from 1988 features a jacket of Harris Tweed, a heritage fabric from the British Isles, along with a kilt-style skirt in traditional Royal Stewart tartan.
These temporary tattoos juxtapose the message and medium – the symbol is the heritage logo of Harris Tweed.
Jenni Avins
“Orthodoxy is the grave of intelligence,” reads this Vivienne Westwood tee shirt from 1989, quoting philosopher Bertrand Russell. It seems the perfect end to a decade of work that combined Westwood's love and mastery of traditional techniques with her commitment to questioning the status quo, often with spectacular results.
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