Tracey-Emin

Tracey Emin on the Importance of Being a Maverick

The artist analyses her close connection with Vivienne Westwood and Andreas Kronthaler, from rule-breaking ad campaigns to custom-fit haute couture

Artwork by Holly Benwell

Finding fellow mavericks in Vivienne Westwood and Andreas Kronthaler, artist Tracey Emin began a close relationship with the original punk brand. From ad hoc ad campaigns shot with then boyfriend and artist Mat Collishaw, to modelling on Westwood’s catwalk and wearing the label's custom-fit haute couture, she has publically explored the irreverence shared by her own work and that of the designers. A 30-page portfolio in AnOther Magazine Autumn/Winter 2017 examines the impact of pioneers Westwood and Kronthaler, and would be incomplete without the voices of their key collaborators. This talk with Tracey Emin is one of a series of discussions outlining the curious and colourful world of Westwood.

AnOther Magazine: Could tell us how your relationship with Vivienne and Andreas first started?

Tracey Emin: I was in a shoot for British Vogue – Mario Testino was doing it – of groups of people together and I was really busy, flat out, in my studio. Vogue wanted to send me a car and I said “I don’t want a car, I’m just going to come by tube” and they were kind of like “Oh, alright.” I asked, “What is the latest that I can get there?” because I sort of know how these things run and they said, “Well you have to be there at midday,” and I actually turned up at like 2pm and they weren’t even ready yet and I was really angry. I said “You know, I had this really important day’s work to do and I did ask – you should have told me”. And then the person sitting next to me said, “Well I’ve been sitting here since 11 o’clock, imagine what I feel like.” Vogue asked me if I needed anything and I said “Yeah, can you get me a can of Coca-cola and 20 Marlboro Lights? I haven’t got any cigarettes”. And then this person offered me a cigarette – it was a Gitanes, I think – and when I looked I suddenly realised it was Vivienne who I was talking to. We had to wait before we did this photoshoot and we spent a long time talking and then we did the photo – Mario’s photos were pretty brilliant actually – and I went home really chuffed I’d met Vivienne Westwood.

AM: What was your first impression of her?

TE: Well she was kind of maverick: she wasn’t taking any bullshit from anybody but at the same time she was very polite and very friendly and she made me feel really at ease with things. Then when she left, she gave me her phone number, or someone did, and I got a phone call asking if I would like to go to Paris for the fashion shows. And I went and then we were friends – we just hit it off. It’s kind of unusual because Vivienne isn’t the easiest person in the world, ‘cause she’s so opinionated, and we were very, very close friends for a long, long time.

Also I was like, size miniature. I was smaller than an eight, I was like a six, and I modelled for Vivienne. Vivienne said to me “Why don’t you wear my clothes?” and I said ‘Because they don’t fit me, I’ve tried and tried but they just don’t fit me!” So I went and met Brigitte [Stepputtis, the head of couture] and then of course they altered all the clothes to fit me because I was too small (laughs), I was like tiny, and yeah, it was amazing. A really lovely thing: Andreas made me this amazing dress for my birthday one year, and there were presents and things like that – it was just brilliant. We spent a lot of time hanging out together, lots.

AM: Why do you think you clicked so well?

TE: I think at the time I was kind of irreverent and sort of, didn’t give a fuck about anything, about what anybody thought, and I think Vivienne kind of liked that attitude about me as well. And I did look pretty amazing in the clothes ‘cause I was skinny but really curvy. Once I had to model a dress with diamonds all over it, it was so heavy and the problem with the real models is the dress just went ‘jooom’ and just fell off them and onto the floor – ‘jooom’ – and they needed someone with hips, so I modelled it. And you could hardly walk in it, it weighed a tonne. It was at the National Gallery, that was it, and on stage Vivienne was doing a talk and I had to come in wearing this diamond dress.

AM: And when you did get the clothes to fit, what is it you really enjoyed about them?

TE: At the time, being younger as well, I just felt so feminine and it felt so baroque, really. Andreas used to say, “So baroque’n’roll darling, baroque’n’roll” (laughs). And it was romantic you know, it wasn’t utilitarian, it was really avant garde and romantic and Vivienne, no matter how classical she goes there’s still this sort of punk to it and this wildness about her as well.

“Vivienne said he came into her life when she was feeling a bit in the doldrums and he really woke everything up, in the studio, and her, and everything” – Tracey Emin 

AM: And what about Andreas, what was your first impression of him and has that changed?

TE: No, it’s exactly the same, exactly the same. He’s just... he’s unchangeable. He’s just, I don’t really use this word very often but, ‘darling’. He’s so lovely and he loves Vivienne so much. It’s admirable. Their relationship is so enchanted, it really is, and how they met and how they got together and everything, it’s got such a romantic, fantastic story, you know.

AM: And when they’re working together, do you see their personal relationship coming through in that process?

TE: Vivienne never thought Andreas was in love with her, she thought it was a professional relationship you know, and they got on so well and it was fantastic in the studio and she said he came into her life when she was feeling a bit in the doldrums and he really woke everything up, in the studio, and her, and everything. Their marriage is about work too, they work very well together, they are very complementary, when you know them both you can see – in the design side – parts that are more Andreas and more Vivienne.

AM: Can you? How?

TE: Yeah, you can. Andreas is pretty 80s (laughs) and it’s sort of a baroque 80s, it still has this 18th-century swagger to it, but it definitely has more of an 80s feel.

“If I ever went to err on the side of caution, just knowing Vivienne would make me go the other way” – Tracey Emin  

AM: And what about Vivienne? What aspects do you always accredit to her?

TE: Well I think with Vivienne it’s always the fabrics, that’s one of her big things, the detail in all the fabrics and the linings. And also I know that Vivienne likes looking through history all the time, constantly. That’s my opinion though, I don’t know if Vivienne would agree with it.

AM: She’s always looking through history, does her work stand outside of the catwalk trends do you think? 

TE: Vivienne’s not fashion, Vivienne’s not competing with fashion, she’s not even dealing with the concept of fashion, she says she is, but she’s not, she’s dealing with clothing.

AM: And do you think that’s why she had a big impact on you? I read that you think she had the biggest impact on the way you dress?

TE: Yeah, the thing is, if I ever went to err on the side of caution, just knowing Vivienne would make me go the other way. I might put on a very classic sort of dress but then I’ve got a pair of red fishnet socks and trainers or something, do you know what I mean? I just fuck it up. I’ve always been a bit like that but Vivienne definitely brought that out of me a lot. Also when I first started earning money I brought really good quality clothes, and I brought them from Vivienne and I’ve still got them. They are still perfect a lot of them, I could still wear them, if I was thinner. I mean, I don’t know what to do – all my clothes are too small for me, it’s the main problem I have. But you know, one day I’ll probably give them all – especially the things that were made for me specially – to a museum or something.

AM: For the archive!

TE: Yeah, definitely – Tracey Emin and Vivienne Westwood: the 90s.

AM: You should do that!

TE: Yeah (laughs). ‘Cause they’re too beautiful not to, I wouldn’t ever want to throw them out, or part with them like that – they mean too much to me.

“She doesn’t like my work. She likes me! She says ‘I think Tracey’s got a lot of style and she’s a very lovely person but she can’t paint and she can’t draw and she can’t do this,’ and I say, ‘Vivienne – you fucking shut up, this is my work that you’re talking about!’” – Tracey Emin 

AM: And she’s famously acerbic in her views on modern art but she likes your work, do you know why that is?

TE: No! She doesn’t like my work, she doesn’t! She likes me! She says “I think Tracey’s got a lot of style and she’s a very lovely person but she can’t paint and she can’t draw and she can’t do this” [impersonating Vivienne’s Midlands accent] and I say, “Vivienne – you fucking shut up, this is my work that you’re talking about!” But Andreas really loves my work. But it’s not Vivienne’s taste: Vivienne loves Neoclassical things, she likes Rubens. Vivienne’s heart is in that, so at least she’s honest. And I understand where she’s coming from, but it does fucking annoy me when she says it publicly, I’ve got to say. But that’s what I’m saying about her, she says what she’s thinking and what she feels and I deeply respect that in a person and Andreas absolutely loves my work so, you know...

AM: Makes up for it a bit?

TE: Yes it definitely makes up for it and Vivienne likes my attitude, that’s what she likes: I say what I think, I stick my head above the parapet. I’m not conservative, with a small ‘c’.

AM: And do you see that as what you have in common?

TE: I think if you were to get a list of women that were kind of mavericks, political and assertive, me and Vivienne would definitely fall into those categories.

AM: And what do you think of the way that she blends fashion – a very sort of popular, commercial world – with her activism?

TE: I think it’s highly commendable and I know there’s other designers that do it without screaming and shouting about it but with Vivienne she’s always been like that, she’s always really practised what she preaches, it’s brilliant. One of the best things that she’s said, that she got really knocked down for, was that people buy too many clothes. And people were like, “Well how can you say that?” But they do. It should be a lot more about quality, things that last a long time, being made really well. I know it sounds silly, but when we were younger we had to save up to buy something and then when it went out of fashion we would alter it till it went into fashion again, and it was like a respect. If I brought a jacket, I loved that jacket, I wore it till it had holes in it, I wouldn’t just toss it away and buy something else. It’s about respect, not just for the culture of clothing or fashion, or whatever, but also the amount of time it took you to save up. So that’s what Vivienne was talking about, not wasting funds, means, energy, you know all the green issues that go with that.

AM: And do you think she has made a big impact in that way?

TE: I tell you what, I think Vivienne has made a massive impact on people of a much younger generation, definitely and that’s the generation that you know is going to be in the position to change things in the future.

AM: Lastly, you shot a few campaigns for her with Juergen Teller as well…

TE: Matt Collishaw, my boyfriend at the time, he did lots, before Juergen, Juergen did it after Matt, Juergen only ever did one with me. Me and Matt did the ones in the street, on the pavement, and that was like way before a kind of grungey aesthetic of fashion came in. We were leaps ahead but that’s what Vivienne and Andreas like because we were artists and it was much more fun working with us then, you know, and we never got paid.

AM: No, of course not!

TE: ‘Cause we were mates, we were friends, just doing stuff and I did the invitation for the menswear collection in Milan one year, where Vivienne and Andreas nearly got arrested. This card had a really beautiful penis that I’d drawn – but an erect penis – and that was the card that went out and then the authorities wanted to know about it. But it was Vivienne and Andreas you know, it was funny.

“Vivinne does exactly what she wants to do – doesn’t give a fuck – and then she’s made a Dame. That is really brilliant for women like me to look at people like her ‘cause it’s important to be honest and true to yourself and still get respect within society” – Tracey Emin 

AM: And what were those shoots like? What was the atmosphere like and what was your MO?

TE: Well, the big one of me, wearing the green dress on the pavement, that was just for the sunglasses weirdly enough. It was like 5 o’clock in the morning and we had been drinking all night and we’ve gone “Oh my god, Vivienne and Andreas need the photos by tomorrow! Let’s go out and just get a polaroid camera and just go and do it!” Or, even working with Juergen, who’s an accomplished fashion photographer, me and Juergen just threw out the editor for the magazine, threw out everyone. Once we just worked with a makeup person, that was it, but the rest of the time, quite often we would have no make-up, nothing you know, it would just be really rough-faced.

AM: That wasn’t the done thing then was it?

TE: No.

AM: What were you trying to achieve?

TE: Now it’s sort of taken for granted, and also now when it’s done, the girls are sort of 14 or 15 – whereas I was 36 then or 35.

AM: Is there anything else you’d like to say about them?

TE: Vivienne and Andreas are very, very special people, really special people, and I’m really proud that Vivienne’s a Dame cause she does exactly what she wants to do – doesn’t give a fuck – and then she’s made a Dame. That is really brilliant for women like me to look at people like her ‘cause it’s important to be honest and true to yourself and still get respect within society, it’s all down to hard work really as well.

AM: So she’s an inspiration?

TE: Yeah I think so, I think to a lot of women, and she’s madness, she’s maverick – yeah, she certainly is.

This interview was conducted for the Autumn/Winter 2017 issue of AnOther Magazine, on sale now.