Pin It

Philip Treacy on Britishness, Bluntness and Authenticity

The master milliner explores his career-long admiration of the inimitable Vivienne Westwood

InterviewSophie Bew

Working closely with the clients of the world of Westwood, Philip Treacy has enjoyed a long and illustrious relationship with the dame designer and her husband. A 30-page portfolio in AnOther Magazine Autumn/Winter 2017 examines the impact of pioneers Vivienne Westwood and Andreas Kronthaler, and would be incomplete without the voices of their key collaborators. This talk with Philip Treacy is one of a series of discussions investigating the impact of one of Britain's key designer duos.

AnOther Magazine: Can you tell us how you know Vivienne Westwood?

Philip Treacy: I’m not an expert on her… I’m just a fan. But I’ve been lucky enough to know her for about 25 years and she was always separate to the fashion industry but also a matriarch of the fashion industry and she is just fantastic. Vivienne is a major international personality who’s highly cultured.

AM: Absolutely! What was your first impression of her?

PT: Well it was like meeting the Queen.

AM: Why is that?

PT: She is very queenly.

AM: Is she?

PT: Yeah I’m sure she was wearing one of her amazing dresses at some fashion event, whatever, everybody gravitates towards Vivienne because Vivienne is the Queen of British fashion.

AM: What makes her that for you?

PT: She’s so charming and unaffected and entertaining and deadpan and straightforward and blunt. Vivienne doesn’t pussyfoot around, about anything.

AM: Has she ever said anything particularly blunt to you?

PT: Well, not quite. I have heard she’s been blunt with other people – really pretty wild. But you know, we did many, many years ago go on a very exciting Harper’s Bazaar expedition, courtesy of Lucy Yeomans. We all found our way to the opening of the One & Only resort in the Maldives. And it was just the most fantastic event you know, it was first class all the way in those days. Not like today, that’s over.

“She’s so charming and unaffected and entertaining and deadpan and straightforward and blunt. Vivienne doesn’t pussyfoot around, about anything” – Philip Treacy 

AM: Yes, those days are gone.

PT: Yeah you’ve missed those. So you know, it was 22-23 hours travelling with stop-offs, we went through Heathrow and the journey went on and on and on, it took forever to get there: you know, you got to Dubai and then you fly on another plane – it was all really luxurious – but then you got to the little boat but as the boat just pulled into the island, Vivienne turned to me and she said, “I’m only going to say this once, but I shouldn’t have come!” [laughs] What I loved was – this is going to sound really weird – we picked Vivienne up at her and Andreas’ cabin and Vivienne was swimming in the sea in this swimsuit that had lost all of its elastication – she didn’t care because she liked it! And I loved that about her, you know, initially I thought, “Surely Vivienne must have designer swimsuits?” But basically that wasn’t important to Vivienne, Vivienne was having a great time in her favourite swimsuit and there’s something authentic and wonderful about that because she doesn’t care.

AM: And do you think that it’s an interesting contrast being a fashion designer and having that attitude towards material things?

PT: Of course, because we work in an industry that promotes material things and we are part of the production of that.

AM: Have you always been attuned to her work?

PT: Of course, Vivienne is one of the rare designers in the world who – and it’s even more powerful today than it has ever been – has a singular handwriting. Vivienne has a way of cutting, a way of colouring, a way of expressing her creativity in a very singular, particular way. Only she does it like that and today in a world where everyone can be a designer, Vivienne’s at the top because she’s a different kind of designer. She’s somebody who has been hugely influential and contributed to what we know as fashion. I remember seeing Vivienne years and years ago on Terry Wogan, do you remember Terry Wogan?

AM: Of course!

PT: She came out in one of her nude bodysuits with the ivy on it in the front piece and the audience laughed and laughed and couldn’t stop laughing. Vivienne just didn’t know what they were laughing at and she stood her ground but they laughed. Now they don’t laugh, but they used to. She was a principled person and designer.

“Her legacy is strength and empowerment and beauty and originality: the ultimate in Britishness, the epitome of Britishness” – Philip Treacy 

AM: Do you think she has shifted perceptions maybe of herself or maybe of fashion in general?

PT: Of course. She educated people about her, about how she sees fashion and now Vivienne Westwood couture is buoyant. We make hats for many of Vivienne’s private customers, the whole world loves Vivienne’s clothes. We meet people from every culture and Vivienne makes them the ultimate dress for the ultimate moment in their life, whatever that may be, a party or a wedding – people love it, they really wear it, and it’s flattering!

AM: And what about Andreas? How does he comes across?

PT: Andreas adores Vivienne, and Vivienne adores Andreas and they live in their own world that they’ve created for themselves.

AM: What do you think that’s like?

PT: I think, it’s probably one of the most charming existences I’ve ever come across in the fashion industry, it’s not about a party or an event or a jet, I think it’s quite private for them really and they work! They’re always working, whether they are educating themselves or whether they are travelling. They’re not trying to be social – though they are very social – but they are workers and Andreas is... where to begin? Andreas is a trip!

“Vivienne made it possible for fashion designers to create unusual fashion and for it to become acceptable, her conviction made it acceptable” – Philip Treacy

AM: Why is that?

PT: Well he’s a trip because his devotion to Vivienne, and his development of what Vivienne stands for has been very powerful for both of them. It’s difficult to be the partner of the designer and design the collection, but their respect and admiration for each other transcends that kind of relationship. I mean, Vivienne is so deferential to Andreas that it’s very sweet. But I love her balls, Vivienne’s got balls.

AM: What do you think about her blend of activism with fashion?

PT: I think she does it with the best intentions, and I think that she has contributed greatly to many causes that she’s taken on. She really cares, some people don’t. She’s passionate about it, she believes in it, you know she’s not just talking about Leonard Peltier in jail, she’s got girls walking around the catwalk wearing a print of him: she’s committed to it.

AM: I imagine you think she will have quite a legacy – how would you describe it? What do you think it is?

PT: I think her legacy is strength and empowerment and beauty and originality: the ultimate in Britishness, the epitome of Britishness.

AM: Why do you think she is the epitome of Britishness?

PT: Because the British have a completely different perspective of fashion to other cultures and that’s why – I’m Irish – I live and work here because there is a different kick to the perception of dressing up here that’s inexplicable, it’s quintessentially British. It’s the ability to dress up as much as you want and not have somebody judge you or look down on you.

AM: Do you see her effect or ethos as having changed much over time?

PT: No I think they have always stuck to their ethos and yes it’s always evolved, Vivienne opened the door, Vivienne allowed and enabled designers like John Galliano and Alexander McQueen and all the other designers who dared to be different. Vivienne was the precursor of that, in a way, there were amazing other people – Ossie Clark – but Vivienne made it possible for fashion designers to create unusual fashion and for it to become acceptable, her conviction made it acceptable.

AM: And finally, do you feel like you have learnt anything from her?

PT: Of course! I learnt that it’s OK to be however you are and survive in the world of fashion.

AM: That’s quite inspirational isn’t it?

PT: It’s very inspirational and it’s very difficult to describe Vivienne but Vivienne is a very special person, very special.

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