The costume archives at the Victoria and Albert Museum have been good to Vivienne Westwood in the past, so the news that the designer and her husband, Andreas Kronthaler, had been poking around again at the V&A sparked a shiver of anticipation for her Fall collection. Westwood's ability to turn history into provocative, influential fashion statements has always been one of her strongest suits.
In this case, history meant the mid-nineteenth-century work of Charles Frederick Worth, the first couturier. But Westwood's interpretation was, to put it mildly, free. The first look echoed high-necked, full-sleeved Victoriana, and there were tailcoats, leg-of-mutton sleeves, and for the finale, a classic Worth silhouette of sweeping, full-skirted tulle (though Worth's clients would never have bared their breasts quite so brazenly). But if this was the fruit of the museum research, it was all mixed up with Westwood's other passions. Viv the environmental activist made her presence felt with anti-fracking messages printed on crop tops. Viv the anthropologist has been in the Andes with Andreas, so there was a hint of Peru in there somewhere. Viv the champion of social change designed her own military gear in which to fight the good fight. And Viv the sensualist whisked up some of her signature déshabillé dresses, slithering off shoulders, wrapping around hips.
When she took her bow at show's end, Westwood was frail but fierce in a shamanic robe. Andreas, supportively holding her hand, looked like a disciple. It was a poignantly appropriate image on which to leave.