Vivienne Westwood

Author: Vivienne Westwood & Ian Kelly | Publisher: Picador

I’ve been AFK this week. We moved house last weekend, which was chaotic, and then it’s just been so bloody hot in London! I do not cope well with hot weather… I think I’ve just been sat in front of the fan in my underpants for 7 days, dreaming about rain!

Vivienne Westwood has been on my #TBR for a couple of years. I used to work for a magazine that were regularly sent review copies of books, and the ones they didn’t want were left a bookcase in Reception so the staff could help themselves. For a bookworm, it was a proper job perk! My book collection grew quite exponentially… This always makes me happy.

Why this book? Well. I wouldn’t call myself an expert on fashion, and I’m always the least fashionably dressed in any room, but I do avidly watch the couture shows every year and one of my favourite treats is a copy of US Vogue (to be savoured over coffee and cake on a Sunday). And since Vivienne Westwood is absolutely synonymous with punk, even today, I was already a little familiar with her work. It seemed like it might be interesting, so I picked it up. And was immediately put off by the completely impenetrable language. I just had no idea what was going on, and I felt I has no real sense of the people or place. It has languished on my #TBR pile ever since.

With the house move all my books, including my more current #TBR pile, are still packed and I was forced to read whatever I could scavenge from the top of a box. I decided to give Vivienne Westwood another go. And this time I liked it.

The language was still rather impenetrable in the beginning. It reminded me of that kind of music journalist patter, where entire sentences seem to be constructed in the most complex way possible. Lots of words, that mean very little. I still struggled to understand who was who and get a real sense of place, because you’re just bombarded with all this information. However, this time, instead of trying to understand it, I just let the words wash over me. And I found that although, ok, I probably couldn’t tell you who was who still, I did get a sense of the chaos of fashion week (where the book begins); which was probably what Ian Kelly was trying to convey. It was actually quite fascinating, when I stopped trying to reason it out. You sort just have to go with it, and let the book carry you along at its own pace and in its own way. After the first chapter, things get a bit less complicated.

The detail and the photographs in the book are thoughtfully curated, and give you a very satisfying flavour of Vivienne Westwood’s character and life. Just enough so you feel satiated, but not so much that nothing is left to the imagination. I was impressed by the woman, and her life has clearly been a real journey. Vivienne Westwood didn’t shy away from the more unpalatable , and while this meant that Vivienne was occasionally unlikeable or unrelatable, she was always interesting. There was something very human about her, because she wasn’t afraid to share where she had made mistakes, been vulnerable, hurt, angry or embarrassed. And I found that some of her quotes, some of her philosophy, stuck with me. I didn’t always agree with her, but it caused me to think, and to question some of my own beliefs or values. Vivienne is a very bold, powerful and inspirational woman, beyond the very laudable and obviously important work she does to protect the rainforests and support human rights.

I thought Ian Kelly did an excellent job of drawing out of Vivienne what he needed in order to get a full picture of her life, and drew a very life-like representation of her character in the book. Not that I’ve met her, but you did start to feel like you knew the woman; rather the mark of a good biography.

If you are interested in fashion, philanthropy or punk, or just like a good biography, I would highly recommend this book. It reminded me a little of the Beatrix Potter biography by Linda Lear, so if you have read and enjoyed that then this will no doubt also suit you.

Rating: 4/5

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