This week Vivienne Westwood presented her latest collection for Autumn/Winter 2018, and with with her typical off-kilter joie de vivre – rather than staging a fashion show in the midst of a packed schedule, it was presented in the form of a short film, lookbook and corresponding essay titled Don’t Get Killed. Riffing on the theme of war and the contemporary world, the collection sees Westwood take colours often linked to the military or to warfare and reposition them as symbols of hope and optimism. Consider this the latest call-to-arms in Westwood’s own war against mediocrity – the latest chapter in her ongoing attempt to awaken us to the quiet tyranny of our modern way of life.
In classic Westwood style, the designer enacts her beliefs by taking symbols of traditional Englishness and making them her own. In this collection, she subverts the essential colours of establishment Great Britain. For example, olive, camouflage green and imperial red are rendered in traditional woollen Melton cloth. In England, Melton is often associated with classic fox-hunting jackets, which have long been appropriated by Westwood, along with other such staples of the country’s upper-classes. Camouflage prints show up in tailored pieces, merging the visual qualities of the military with the way we dress today. Meanwhile Mountbatten pink, a shade of murky mauve used by Lord Mountbatten to camouflage Royal Navy ships during the Second World War, falls into the mix.
Often in fashion the iconography of war is taken literally – the military jacket inspired by army surplus, the aviator sunglasses or bomber jacket as symbols of modern masculinity. Yet by honing in on the details of colour and fabric in a collection which defies the stricture of gender divides, Westwood has created a different context altogether. Here we’re reminded again that through looking at colour itself, we create an opportunity to shake out our perspective, turning expectations entirely on their heads. See for example the signature looks in this collection: the unisex Princess overcoat, a symbol of English heritage made new in vibrant outsized check; men and women alike in colourful, identical Savile Row stripes.
Throughout her career Vivienne Westwood has had bigger goals in mind than merely making a pretty dress or a snappy suit. A natural activist and born idealist, she has reiterated to her audience that she wishes to save the world, particularly when it comes to climate change and the environment. Here she continues that refrain: the collection presents a spirit which is very pure and political – a desire to wake us up from our own mediocrity, in colours that are familiar and yet seen as if for the first time.