The Queen of Punk tells Francesca Fearon about her love-hate relationship with fashion and how she is trying to make the world a better place.
A LIFE IN FASHION I didn't like it at all. About 15 years ago, my husband, Andreas [Kronthaler], said to me, 'You've really got to decide to like this [business] or give it up. You can't just not like it.' I never wanted to do fashion, I just designed to help out my partner in those days, [entrepreneur and musician] Malcolm McLaren. Then I realised I was creating a big sensation in the fashion world and perhaps I had a duty to carry on. In retrospect, I would have been stupid to have given it up because, in my opinion, I had had an incredible impact. Clothes would not be the same today if I had never done fashion. Andreas has been an incredible influence and he's not credited with that because I am the public face and because punk was such a phenomenon and we would never have that impact again. Andreas does as much design as I do and we work well together.
WILD YOUTH Punk was great, I learned a lot from it. It wasn't a question of being shocking but at the time we [with McLaren] were doing punk it was to be rebellious. The world was terrible and corrupt in the 1970s - it still is - and the idea was to rebel against the older generation. We wanted to look like urban guerrillas. Punk was a look that evolved from the bondage fashions of SEX [Westwood's 70s London fashion boutique]. We were trying to confront the hypocrisy of the establishment.
THE SHOW MUST GO ON I can't remember why the 'A Life in Fashion' exhibition didn't go ahead in Hong Kong three years ago - we were trying to keep the tour geographical and it went to Japan. I have no idea why [the authorities] should have considered it controversial. [Hong Kong could have been the first stop for the exhibition but the Leisure and Cultural Services Department thought it did not 'fit the taste of Hong Kong people'.] It is nearing the end of its five-year non-stop tour now and a lot of places have had record attendances, which is nice.
ART BREAK I don't go on holiday. I travel as little as I can but I do go when the exhibition opens and spend a couple of extra days in the city. I went to Shanghai and stayed longer to go to the museum as I am mad about Chinese paintings. If I could choose my time again, I would just sit and look at Chinese paintings - I think they are just incredible. When I was in Brazil, I gave a reading of my manifesto and went to see the rainforests.
MISSION STATEMENT The manifesto is a 22-page document, called Active Resistance to Propaganda, launched last year about the need for art and culture. I've got very strong opinions about how to make the world a better place. I designed a [save the] rainforest collection for this winter with clothes hand-painted by children. I think we are doomed unless we do something about the rainforests and I am working on that idea at the moment. The prediction is that in 100 years, [the population will be 5 billion less than it is now]. The danger we are in is extreme. The human genus is moving towards self-destruction.
We've got to make sure tyrannies don't wipe away human life. People ask me why I don't become a politician - I am too old for a start: if I was 50 years old, maybe. I am taken quite seriously judging by the comments I receive when I do readings [of the manifesto] in schools, universities and other places. It is important to try to make a difference. The talk of democracy in the west, for instance, has had a new lease of life with [the election of] Barack Obama. It makes you think public opinion does make a difference.
HAUTE COUTURE Punk gave me a profile 30 years ago but I have changed 180 degrees since then. It was my husband who made me really appreciate the French couturiers. I had only been into street culture and looking at history, even though my cutting methods were, and still are, couture - my own version of couture. The greatest of all couturiers is Yves Saint Laurent - I thought that man was so wonderful. They were all great, including Christian Dior. When the house needed a designer [in the mid 90s] I felt I should offer my services - it would have been good to work with the team and the wonderful technicians but John Galliano had got the job anyway. Twenty years earlier I couldn't have imagined working in couture and it was some time before I realised how great those designers were.
IDEA CENTRAL I am very intellectually inclined: my fashion career has always been 'when I finish this pair of trousers I can read a book'. I don't watch TV and I don't look at fashion magazines, although I have an idea of what other designers do. I hardly ever go to the cinema as I am bored stiff with it usually. I come from a backwater, culturally and politically, in the Pennines, Derbyshire [in Britain] and so I never went to the theatre or saw paintings until I came to London and I just thought I should start to understand the world I live in. I read for ideas, not just to stop thinking and be entertained. I've just read Cormac McCarthy's The Road, which is a great piece of literature, and I am reading about the evolution of music and (Richard Tarnas') The Passion of the Western Mind, about western thought in the last 200 years - it's hard stuff.
'Vivienne Westwood, A Life in Fashion' starts tomorrow and runs until January 31, at ArtisTree, 3/F Cornwall House, Taikoo Place, Quarry Bay, tel: 2844 5096.