For the second time this week, a designer claimed inspiration from illuminated medieval manuscripts. First Cédric Charlier, now Vivienne Westwood. "When you go back in time, you also enter the future," quoth Dame Viv in her show manifesto. The cultural cross-pollination that occurred when the Crusaders returned to Europe after their rampage through the Arab world clearly connected with Westwood's own wayward design sensibility. Always one of fashion's great historicists, she literally wove medieval flora and fauna into her clothes.

But where once she would have dwelled on the costume collection at the Victoria & Albert Museum for inspiration, now Westwood turns to Greenpeace. "Save the Arctic" was the rubric that ruled her latest collection. She convincingly detailed the urgency of this particular crisis in a fly sheet that awaited invitees. Hopefully everyone read it and absorbed the message, because, as usual, the farrago of fashion she showed wasn't particularly useful in clarifying her commitment.

A Westwood collection typically runs a gamut from hyper-sophisticated tailoring to glamorous languor to pagan disarray. Today was no exception. A rigorous, broad-shouldered gray flannel pantsuit shared catwalk space with a fishtail goddess gown wrapped in brocade, and a tattered, hooded cape over a message knit and a flyaway silk-scarf skirt. What every look shared was dramatically heightened makeup that suggested barbarian queens here, battered wives there. That such ambiguity could even exist is one of those perplexing Westwood conundrums. The activist message she is happiest conveying was clear enough in the paperwork on our seats. Exactly what she would like us to get from her clothes was much less distinct.