Pamela Anderson and Andreas Kronthaler are kindred spirits, kind spirits – idealists united in their pursuit of a better world. That, of course, also unites them with Vivienne Westwood – possibly the most politically active fashion designer of the past half-century.
Anderson, likewise, has tirelessly wielded her celebrity for environmental – and more recently, social and political – causes. Since achieving pin-up status in the late 80s and early 90s, modelling in Playboy and acting in Baywatch, she has become as much of a force off screen as on. A committed vegan, she has championed animal rights for more than 20 years, including as a poster girl for Peta since 1997, and most recently campaigned with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a direct action marine conservation group, among other organisations.
Kronthaler met Westwood in 1988 while he was studying – and she was teaching, as a visiting professor of fashion – at the University of Applied Arts Vienna. He followed Westwood back to London, where they fell in love. Kronthaler has been working alongside Westwood since 1990, initially as her assistant and latterly as creative director of the main line, which Westwood passed on to him and added his name to in 2016. They married in 1993 and together they form one of fashion’s most extraordinary pairings.
The links between this Austrian fashion designer and Canadian-American polymath actress-model-activist go beyond Anderson’s legendarily pneumatic silhouette – which does, indeed, find ample reflection in Kronthaler’s tailoring, and has been featured in both the label’s advertising campaigns and shows. They first met in the south of France many years ago but formed their friendship in 2008, in a trailer park in Malibu, California, on the shoot for a Vivienne Westwood campaign. When they speak now, Kronthaler is in his studio in London, while Anderson is holed up in a sunny hideaway somewhere along the Canadian coastline. In an exchange that’s both “intimate” and “sexy” – Anderson’s words – they catch up on everything, from life over the past six months to their respective journeys in activism and what it means to live romantically.
Zoom conversation between Pamela Anderson and Andreas Kronthaler, July 2020.
Pamela Anderson: So, are we interviewing each other? Let’s keep it sexy. When did we first meet?
Andreas Kronthaler: I remember very well. We were arranging a photoshoot in Los Angeles – it was a long time ago, it was actually the day that Barack Obama was voted in, or a couple of days before. We were driving down to Malibu, where you lived in this trailer park. We didn’t know what to expect. You just said, “Come along and let’s shoot around my trailer.” We got there, called you up and you came down this little hill in a white golf cart. You looked incredible. I’ll never forget it. You were in a man’s vest and that was all you wore, really.
PA: Well, yes, I don’t wear much ...
AK: Just this big, baggy man’s vest, and I was like, “Gargh!”
PA: I’m wearing this old slip now – I don’t like clothes, you know me.
AK: Anyway, we spent nearly a week there and it was just an incredibly beautiful experience.
PA: And Obama was voted in and we were so excited.
AK: It was a very big moment. It was a moment of hope.
PA: And then we lost hope ...
AK: We have to find it again.
PA: Yes, we have to find it again. Who’s going to help us with that? Not America, I don’t think.
AK: We have to help each other and do it ourselves.
PA: That’s right ... So that’s how I met you. But I met Vivienne long before that.
AK: No, I actually met you as well, and this was a really long time ago, in the south of France. We were at dinner and you walked into the room and Vivienne asked you to sign a petition for Leonard Peltier [the American Indigenous rights activist imprisoned after a controversial 1977 trial. His conviction has been the subject of much contention; Amnesty International, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and the Dalai Lama have all campaigned for clemency]. She was campaigning to get him out of prison. You whisked by – I remember very well – in a totally transparent dress.
PA: What’s wrong with me? Totally transparent.
AK: Anyway, you immediately signed this petition and then you started to talk to Vivienne a bit.
PA: I still campaign for Leonard. I still don’t think he should be in prison, even though people found out more things about that time. I still talk to him. It’s such a terrible thing.
AK: [He has been in now for] I don’t know how long.
PA: I feel a lot of the time with activism, especially with celebrities, it becomes more about the celebrity than the actual cause. Everybody knows my point of view – I’m trying to come from another place. I’m always active but less visibly active, which I think is less annoying to people.
AK: Sometimes as well, Pamela, you don’t really preach to the convinced ones.
PA: I want to do things that actually make a difference, like give money to people on the front lines – less, “Look at me, look at me, this is what I believe.” It’s actually been really successful in helping people. More so now than ever. Not so much me being the poster child for things.
AK: Yes, but we need to see you every now and again. I’m not sure if I’m an activist. I’ve got causes I care about but I try to stay in the background. But one time, when I was 16 or 17 years old, they wanted to open a nuclear power station. We lay in front of this power station for a week or two and they didn’t open it. And they’re still without nuclear energy, Austria, [nearly] 40 years later. It wasn’t violent, it was peaceful, but it made a difference.
PA: When I was young, this was my first action. My father was hunting and he came home and he told me not to go into the pump house, so of course that’s the first place I went. And I saw a dead deer hanging upside down, dripping into a bucket of blood. That made me realise what meat is, so I stopped eating it and convinced him not to hunt. Then, when I started Baywatch, I had to share this meaningless attention with something more important, otherwise I’d feel like I’m living a meaningless life. So I started working with animal charities. I saw how it worked and thought, what else can I do? [Now I work with] all these different people that I’ve met, and I have my foundation that I fund and get funding for and give it to people on the front line – like Paul Watson [the Canadian-American environmental activist who founded the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society]. You don’t always have to be on the front page of everything to make a difference.
AK: He’s a good writer, Paul Watson, he’s super-brilliant.
PA: He knows a lot, that’s for sure. The oceans are responsible for most of the oxygen we breathe and we’re just killing them. Humans are terrible. Not my favourite species. I like my kids, I like my friends, but that’s it. I shouldn’t say that, there are good people out there. Human beings are incredible, too, but it’s just disappointing. Gobbling up everything. That means myself as well. I’m disappointed.
AK: I work very closely in a team which is like a community. I think if everyone knows their role in it, it can be something very powerful and very positive if the cause is right.
PA: It can be very powerful. I want to see you, Andreas. I miss you guys, it’s been so long. Sometimes this all feels like an illusion, like time is an illusion – it feels like I saw you yesterday. And you know, you’re always making fun of me for being naked, but you’re naked a lot, too. I’ve seen you in lots of transparent garments.
AK: I have nothing to hide.
PA: Me neither. You once looked at Vivienne and me and said, “You are the two most difficult women to dress.” [Laughs.] I love what Vivienne’s been wearing lately – I know you’re dressing her and she looks fabulous. I guess there are still collections coming out, but there’s no show?
AK: We have done the summer collection – I actually finished it before lockdown. But there will be no show because it doesn’t make sense. It’s just too risky. Let’s see in the new year. We’ll have to think of something else but I’m a bit wary of it because, I don’t know, these films ...
PA: You and Juergen will figure something out, right? Does he do film, too?
AK: Yes, he does. He does it with his iPhone.
“We were driving down to Malibu, where you lived in this trailer park. We got there, called you up and you came down this little hill in a white golf cart. You looked incredible. I’ll never forget it. You were in a man’s vest and that was all you wore, really” – Andreas Kronthaler
PA: You can do everything with your iPhone.
AK: Another thing, Pamela, is that no one is having any social events, so of course they don’t need to dress up as they used to. For the parties …
PA: Or even weddings – people are doing Zoom weddings.
AK: Just two people, no fun. Are you thinking of marrying again?
PA: No. Maybe. One more time, why not?
AK: How many times have you been married?
AK: That’s not so bad.
PA: Nope. Fourth time’s the charm. We just have to live our lives, right? I’m a romantic. This time I’ll wear a Vivienne dress. Or a dress by Andreas – what am I saying? It’ll be a bikini and a veil. No, I’m kidding. It’s actually very hot here right now.
AK: I’ve never been to Canada before, you know.
PA: No? When you come here you have to quarantine for two weeks, they’re very strict about it. I have California plates on my car and a man came up to my car and banged on the window and told me to go back. He called me a Yankee and told me to go home. I think the stress of this is going to have more impact than anything else. We’re all living with a little bit of a stomach ache. It’s great for artists to put a stamp on this time. We have to depend on them to make sense of it all. I can’t make sense of anything.
AK: I haven’t read one line of a book.
PA: No reading? That’s funny, you read a lot.
AK: I tried starting a book but stopped after 30 pages. I don’t know why. I did gardening, cooking and cleaning. I love cleaning. I’m a bit house-proud.
PA: But that’s what you have to do, it’s like meditation.
AK: It was a break, a break that was forced onto you. And I needed it. I realise that now. We had been doing shows and collections for 30 years. Like a hamster on a wheel. And suddenly the wheel stopped.
PA: That’s the good part, it made everybody stop.
AK: For a second.
PA: For the foreseeable. Everybody is waiting for the world to get back to the regular way, but I don’t think it will. This time has taught me that we have too much stuff.
AK: I’ve learnt to be more in the moment. To appreciate what you have and what’s around you. I thought people were really sweet – the contacts I had in this time were really sweet and positive.
PA: More intimate. We’re all in this together.
“That’s what sexiness means to me – being engaged in the world, the romantic struggle. Living romantically is living with empathy, being vulnerable, taking risks, being a pioneer, living on the edge, not following a formula, being a little more brave with your decisions” – Pamela Anderson
AK: We’re all in this together. That is a very special thing. And now of course, we’re in London. It’s a huge city and it’s all getting back to normal. It’s getting busy, congested and noisy.
PA: But in Austria, what’s it like there?
AK: We stay in this house – my brother, he’s a farmer, he’s got a house up in the mountains, so it’s really remote. It’s heaven.
PA: I feel like this is heaven here. I’m so happy to see your face – and moving, instead of just a picture on Instagram.
AK: I should post more of myself.
PA: More naked pictures. You and Vivienne are a great couple. You’re talented, funny, sexy and perfect. Sometimes people ask me, do I worry about what people think? And I say, well, the people I admire love me, so it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. Vivienne and Andreas like me.
AK: That’s what counts. You are a force of nature and a very kind person, too. I mean, there is all the exterior but there is the interior as well. What impressed me very much is what a wonderful mother you are. In this trailer park, when you had the boys there – this was a long time ago, they were still teenagers – you were so special to them and you educated them so well.
PA: Somehow they survived and turned into incredible boys, so that’s a great compliment, thank you. This has been a sexy interview, an intimate interview. That’s what sexiness means to me – being engaged in the world, as we say, the romantic struggle. Living romantically is living with empathy, being vulnerable, taking risks, being a pioneer, living on the edge, not following a formula, being a little more brave with your decisions. You never feel bad if you do something crazy, wild and sexy. I mean, I don’t.
AK: Neither do I. I never regret it.
PA: No, you can’t regret anything. No regrets. I’m so happy to see you. Kiss Vivienne for me.
This story appears in AnOther Magazine Autumn/Winter 2020, which is now on sale internationally.