Despite what Zoolander might have you believe, fashion shows are usually sedate affairs: models slink down the catwalk silently; audiences clap politely; designers take modest little bows.
Thank goodness, then, for Vivienne Westwood, who closed her menswear show in London on Monday afternoon riding the shoulders of a muscle-bound male model/acrobat while wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with an expletive before singing the praises of Jeremy Corbyn backstage. Westwood’s victory lap was a fitting finale to one of her most outlandish fashion shows in recent years, featuring ballerinas twirling en pointe, dancers spinning around in giant metal hoops and contortionists bending into crab-like poses.
The clothes covered the traditional Westwood bases — pinstriped suiting, T-shirts with campaigning slogans, corseted dresses — presented in surreal, unexpected ways. Many models wore fishnet tights with rubbish stuffed into them — crushed cans, empty plastic water bottles — and from red noses to bobbly-textured white painted faces, the make-up was pleasingly weird.
Notably, the collection featured dozens of Westwood’s signature gowns — sophisticated black and taupe va-va-voom creations with pointed necklines of the kind worn by Nigella Lawson in the noughties.
But this time they were presented on male models and styled in anarchic ways, paired with popsicle blue hair, or with litter stuffed into crumb-catcher necklines.
As ever, this was a collection with a message. Notes distributed at the show explained that a repeated circle motif that appeared to be “a spotty animal print” was actually “meant to be the noughts which endlessly multiply money by 10 over and over. We only need a few to save the rainforest but billions disappear every day in global inflation”.
Other repeated patterns included playing card-like symbols which, the notes said, were a heart symbolising “love, free world & IOU”, a diamond meaning “greed, rot$, propaganda”, a phallus, which stood for “war”, and a triangle which represented “giants like Shell and Monsanto who rape the Earth”.
After the show, her porcelain skin decorated with magenta scribbles around the lips and eyes, Westwood received compliments from a fascinating crowd of well-wishers, including middle-aged men wearing paper crowns straight from the pages of Where the Wild Things Are and young women with black lipstick and pierced septa.
Westwood explained the significance of her T-shirt, saying: “We are [expletive] the Earth. This is Nasa information, it’s official information, but the world is ignoring it. There will only be 1 billion people left by the end of this century, because the Earth will be mostly uninhabitable. This is where we’re heading and it’s disguised from us.” Still, it was not all doom and gloom. “I want to talk about Jeremy Corbyn,” she said. “What I want to say is that Corbyn won the future — that’s what that vote means. Because the young people voted for him; that really is a movement forward, because they want to go more green. “It’s the Trumps and the Theresa Mays of this world who want to go backward and keep the fossil fuel industry going, have unfair distribution of wealth. And the press are purposely confusing this, living in a world where they think they have so much power, but people saw through it. [The press] don’t know what’s happening on social media. But Jeremy Corbyn’s really got his finger on the pulse. It’s brilliant.”
Westwood’s show at the Seymour Leisure Centre, in London’s Marylebone, was the high-profile finale of a men’s fashion week short on blockbuster brands — the tentpole names of previous seasons, Burberry and JW Anderson, have decamped to show their men’s collections during womenswear and Florence’s Pitti show respectively — but packed with imagination and homespun creativity.
Gender fluidity was a major theme, with genderless gowns, theatrical presentations and punky art-meets-fashion bricolage generating buzz for young designers including Charles Jeffrey Loverboy, Art School and the wonderfully weird Rottingdean Bazaar. All of them could accurately be described as the twirling, whirling, eccentric disciples of Westwood.