Fashion & Beauty / The Shows That Matter

Cafe Society: Vivienne Westwood's Hyper-Sexual Extravaganza

A topless Kate Moss eating a Magnum and shoes trimmed with vibrators – we look back at Westwood's S/S94 runway

The fashion show is a particular phenomenon, its conception often extending far beyond the garments themselves. It is the only chance a designer has to communicate their complete vision; for a few moments, they hold press and buyers captive, suspended within their world. A carefully curated show or presentation can operate as the truest reflection of a creative vision and yet, once the spectacle is over and a designer takes their bow (or doesn’t – an equally deliberate statement), months of preparation can quickly be resigned to the past. We believe these moments should be preserved forever, so today AnOther brings you our new series: The Shows That Matter, an exploration of iconic catwalk moments in fashion history.

The Show
The Cafe Society show was beloved Dame Vivienne at her finest: a symphony of caricatured erotic stereotype and deconstructed sartorial traditions amidst a saccharine world of floral whimsy. As Ingrid Loschek explains in When Clothes Become Fashion, "Vivienne Westwood luxuriated in historical and ethnic testamentary details, which were perverted, alienated and assembled into a new whole, that is, into somehing that was entirely up to date" – and few things combine past and present as effectively as a perfectly powdered, bare breasted Kate Moss insouciantly eating a Magnum.

A development of her 80s collections that incorporated the "mini-crini" (a short adaptation of a 19th century crinoline), Westwood's Cafe Society show used tassels, corsetry and crochet to turn her models into Elizabethan showgirls, prancing along to music hall orchestration in a subversive parody of historic feminine conventions. Some wore shoes with rubber vibrators protruding from the toes, a spoof on 15th century pointed-toe poulaines, some were in padded bustiers, some sported metal caged bustles; a brilliant medley of traditions that combined into, and satirised, the ultimate male fantasy.

The People
Starring Kate Moss, Yasmine le Bon and Naomi Campbell, the casting was a mid-90s extravaganza of supermodels at their peak. Swinging their tassled hips, tottering on their 15.5cm heels and interacting with each other in a farcically pornographic fashion, the models fed each other (and the audience) melting ice creams and licked their lips provocatively.

The Impact
In 1994, the Daily Mail's front page decreed that Vivienne Westwood's On Liberty collection "dragged haute couture to a new low," calling Carla Bruni a "cheap tart" and saying that Kate Moss appeared like a "child prostitute." Her subsequent – and even more explicit – Cafe Society collection demonstrates that Westwood revelled in this (deeply ironic) conservative condemnation, later explaining that her mid-90s collections were "very confrontational somehow. It's for someone who's a very strong character."

Westwood's subversion of the conventions of oppression, exploiting them into modes of empowerment, is something that has provoked a legacy that can be seen throughout contemporary fashion collections. Meadham Kirchhoff's S/S13 show appropriated the same traditions of tailoring and powdering, and their S/S15 collection (featuring ruffles galore and tassled tampon decorations) was a direct homage, as expressed in the accompanying shownotes: "It would be wrong of me to not acknowledge the obvious and undeniable influence that Dame Westwood has had on this collection. Forever indebted to yr genius." 

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