Vivienne Westwood, arguably the most influential British fashion designer of the twentieth century, revels in incendiary provocation and a defiance of convention, but nonetheless finds beauty and inspiration in the past. This apparent contradiction, to attempt to upset the status quo while clearly having a consciousness of tradition and history, made Westwood the most representative designer of The Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute's 2006 exhibition AngloMania: Tradition and Transgression in British Fashion. Given Westwood’s violation of expectations, it's really no surprise that the designer so associated with torn T-shirts, bondage jackets and punk rock (see last image, below) is also capable of creating astonishingly rigorous examples of tailoring and dressmaking.
At the time, Westwood said that this dress was her most important work to date. Comprising a beautifully constructed and boned bodice as its base, the gown has been draped, fitted and spiraled around the body in one unbroken length. Yes, one unbroken length. It is an aesthetic marvel, all the more important for the virtuosity of Westwood’s approach, at once conceptually reductive and technically audacious. While the gown might evoke the French haute couture of the 1950s and an attendant impression of retardataire elegance, Westwood’s subversion is in her breaking of any prior conventions of draping and dressmaking.
:images metropolitan museum of art; vivienne westwood (british, b. 1941). “propaganda” dress, fall/winter 2005–06. lilac silk faille; shoes, autumn/winter 1990. hot pink crocodile-embossed patent leather.