How to Change the World, According to Vivienne Westwood

Vivienne Westwood AW18Photograph by Jim Tobias, courtesy of Vivienne Westwood

As the designer and fierce activist celebrates her birthday this weekend, we present the Westwood guide to curing a rotten financial system (and saving the planet in the process)

For a woman who has altered the course of fashion so inexorably, Vivienne Westwood is surprisingly disinterested with the trappings of the industry that made her name. Or, if disinterested is too strong a word – after all, her collections, created both under her own name and through the line which is now helmed by her husband Andreas Kronthaler, continue to reverberate with her defiant energy – then it’s fair to say she is preoccupied with bigger things. And one thing in particular: saving the world.

It’s a task she has approached with a steely resolution, her uncompromising outlook belying the public perception of the designer as Britain’s amenable, eccentric dame; memorable moments include impersonating Margaret Thatcher on the cover of Tatler, driving a white tank to David Cameron’s constituency in protest of fracking, and shaving her head as a reminder to the world to wake up to climate change. Behind the theatre, however, is a bedrock of support for numerous charities, NGOs and ethical fashion initiatives.

“I’m always trying to protect the underdog,” Westwood told Susannah Frankel in the A/W17 issue of AnOther Magazine. The environment, though, is her chief concern. “It was when I read this interview by James Lovelock where he said there will only be a million people left at the end of this century,” she says. “Then I looked at this map published by NASA which showed a line where the world would be uninhabitable. The inhabitable is only a quarter of the world! We won’t have time to migrate. The animals will be dead. It means mass extinction.”  

Thankfully, though, Westwood has a plan. Here, in her own words, as told to Frankel, six ways we can begin to push against the systems of power that surround us – and save the planet in the process.

1. Know your enemy

“That’s my job as an activist; to analyse things. In order to see what we need to do we need to see the enemy. And to me, we need to get rid of the rotten financial system. I do it shorthand: R-O-T-$. Rot $. The rotten financial system we’ve got is designed to create poverty.”

2. Turn the economy green

“The only thing to replace the rotten financial system with is a green economy. The green economy is actually designed to create wealth opportunities; it’s actually designed to create liberty, equality, fraternity. What nature gives you is free, and no one should privately own. That’s the end of it.”

3. Start with your energy source

“First of all we have to switch to a green energy supply. That’s what we’re trying to do. I’ve got this campaign, SWITCH – we’re going to get half the country on to a green energy supply, starting with the fashion business. They’re all on board; they’re all going to do it.”

4. Redistribute wealth

“Once you get back land for your own use, instead of all being on the housing ladder where every man is for himself, you actually get community – people helping each other out. That’s fraternity. Then equality is just the equal distribution of wealth and opportunity.”

5. Celebrate culture

“If we had culture instead of consumption – which is everybody for himself, not relating to people – we would not have climate change. We would not have allowed the National Health Service to be wrecked; it just would not have happened. Culture makes people think. It’s good for people. And now we have consumption, not culture. We don’t have art anymore.”

6. Question who’s in power

“What Theresa May’s been brainwashed to believe is that you’ve always got to support the party. You’ve always got to get the same people into power who will run that system. I don’t know why they believe that, because when she thinks about it she must know what she’s doing – she’s wrecking the NHS, selling it off.”

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