Vivienne Westwood: Fashion, Perversity, and the Sixties Laid Bare

Fred Vermorel, Author Overlook Press $23.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-87951-691-8
London fashion designer Westwood's ""impishly erotic couture"" won her international acclaim in the '80s and '90s, but she made her first and perhaps most indelible mark on popular culture in the '70s, when she, along with her notoriously Svengalian partner, Malcolm McLaren, was instrumental in shaping both the ethos and the iconography of punk rock. Operating under the philosophy that ""You can never go too far,"" the two used their SEX boutique to launch outrageous fashion trends that became the most visible markers of underground chic. Rock critic Vermorel (The Secret History of Kate Bush) here parlays a decades-long acquaintance with Westwood into an intriguing biography that is noteworthy for its focus on its subject's engagement with the intellectual currents that seized the countercultural imagination at various stages in her career. He also charts her stormy but creatively fertile relationship with McLaren and explores the evolution of her philosophy of fashion. Utilizing an unusual technique that works surprisingly well, Vermorel devotes the second half of his narrative to an account of his own coming-of-age under the auspices of countercultural ideologies. Westwood becomes a disappointingly peripheral figure in this section, but Vermorel's self-scrutiny permits a sustained and highly insightful examination of the kinds of ideas that fueled Westwood's own creative imagination. ""The secret which McLaren and Westwood learned by heart,"" Vermorel concludes, is ""how to paint your subjectivity in the codes of culture and foment an insurrection of like-minded solitudes."" Photos. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/02/1996
Release date: 09/01/1996
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Paperback - 256 pages - 978-0-87951-795-3
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