Vivienne Westwood is a fashion designer and was one of the prime movers - with her then-lover Malcolm McLaren, who managed the Sex Pistols - behind the punk movement of the 1970s. She is also almost certainly the only person to have been convicted, in 1975, for 'exposing to public view an indecent exhibition' who has then gone on to receive the Order of the British Empire from Queen Elizabeth II. You may recall that December day in 1992 when the OBE was handed over: Westwood, who had omitted to wear knickers, was encouraged to do a twirl in front of the press pack, thus once again exposing to public view a sight to make the British public quail or, at least, keep journalists enjoyably outraged for several days. Having spent some time with Westwood when she was in Hong Kong recently, however, I'm sure the Queen was struck not so much by the designer's knickerless state but by her majestic presence, which is remarkable. It is, perhaps, no coincidence that she uses an orb as her logo. While it's true she kicked off this interview in her suite at the Island Shangri-La with the alarming (certainly in a punk context) words, 'I'll just go to the toilet, Fionnuala', and while it's also true she chain-smoked Gitanes cigarettes, the majesty of her bearing and the precise way in which she enuciated her every word were regal revelations. I was afraid, at first, that these might be the only qualities she was going to reveal. Westwood is not the easiest person to interview. Apart from a baffling tendency to disappear into the highways and byways of philosophy given the slightest excuse (a journalist who flew with her to Paris once described how the check-in question, 'Did you pack your own bag?' was answered with a snippet of political thought), she becomes bored by questions about her colourful past. 'The thing I'm least interested in keeping in my memory is anything to do with me,' she announced halfway through our meeting. I, crouched in the deferential posture of a courtier - she can have that effect, particularly because she hates being interrupted - tried not to look too crushed. 'I find it strange that other people have an interest in their own lives, what they did in 1968 ... I have no sense of chronology. I don't take delight in anecdotal indulgences.' But, I asked, aren't you intrigued to hear about other designers? 'Yes, it can be very interesting,' she replied (the volte-face is evidently a Westwood trait). 'Apparently, Balenciaga [the great couturier] never gave interviews. Apparently, he never saw his customers, he was very, very great to maintain that aloofness. People always said it must have been a wonderful life but at the end of his career he did one interview, and he said, 'It's a dog's life.' ' Does she agree? 'I've always cared about brain stimulation,' replied Westwood earnestly. 'I didn't want to be a fashion designer, I did it to please somebody. I used to make all the clothes on my own body, but my aim used to be to finish, to finish, to get to my book. As a child, I would make things and wander in the countryside, reading.' The countryside was Derbyshire, England, where she was born 59 years ago as Vivienne Isabel Swire. When I said that surname had resonance in Hong Kong, she said there was no known relationship with the hong but that Sir Walter Scott used the word 'swire' in his writings, and it means 'a little hollow on a mountainside'. This exchange struck me as typical Westwood, involving, as it did, a wish to disassociate herself from anything too Establishment, while evoking a cultural worthy and demonstrating the range of her reading. She is a relentless autodidact. Someone I know once sat next to her on a plane to Germany, saw her immersed in a copy of Macbeth and assumed she was a retired academic with a wacky dress sense (she was wearing trousers with a codpiece) until the pfennig dropped. When I asked her what reading material she had brought with her on this trip, she replied, 'I'm halfway through The Problem Of China, written by Bertrand Russell in 1922. It's out of print, I'd been trying to get hold of it for some time.' Meanwhile - and this is the apparently bizarre part - she disdains anything which might be construed as modern. British Vogue had a gathering of movers and shakers recently, and Westwood, finding herself within the orbit of Bono from U2, one of the world's most successful rock groups, was heard to say, 'I don't really keep up with popular culture. Who is Bono?' She told me she knew about Oasis only because she'd heard 'this awful music' in a taxi on her way back from a reception at 10 Downing Street, and the driver had enlightened her. The present has no relevance, literally: she doesn't wear a watch. Perhaps this is less strange than it sounds, because for all their shock value her clothes spring from a particular quaintness: the mini-crinolines, the visual reference They had, she explained, a conversation in a park. After that, things have been much better. I thought this a rare solution, but perhaps, in its quaint Englishness, it was a very Westwood thing to do (and the park, as they so often are in London, was probably royal too). 'I stand by the clothes,' she said gravely, adjusting her dress and the row of bug brooches which marched across her bosom. 'I guarantee they're the best I can do. I have something to offer. If I didn't do it, it wouldn't exist.'