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Vivienne Westwood: An Unfashionable Life Paperback – 22 Jul 2011
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Age has not dimmed Britain's most outrageous designer. Since she exploded on to the fashion scene more than 20 years ago, Vivienne Westwood--with her influential succession of London shops such as SEX, her famous partnership with punk impresario Malcolm McLaren, her season after season of eclectic collections--has been a controversial and sometimes bizarre figure.
Born in Glossop, Derbyshire in 1941, Westwood was a schoolteacher, wife, and mother when she met McLaren in 1965. He immediately challenged what he viewed as her provincial misconceptions, and channelled her huge artistic creativity. "I was a coin and he showed me the other side", she later said. Her designs and his entrepreneurial flair ensured the duo a place in British rock and fashion history as the inspiration behind the styles of punk and New Romanticism. By 1983, when both their personal and professional partnership was over, Westwood had become a formidable fashion force in her own right, and even teetered on the edge of the Establishment when she was awarded the OBE in 1992--though she did turn up knickerless to the ceremony at Buckingham Palace.
Jane Mulvagh, a fashion historian with an insider's experience of the designer world, has written a packed and exhilarating biography of the woman who has twice been British Designer of the Year, and who continues to exasperate, scandalise, and inspire--but never to emulate. --Catherine Taylor
‘The most compelling fashion biography for years. Honest, witty, perceptive, vivid. Each chapter is filled with insights’ Suzy Menkes, International Herald Tribune
‘A commanding study. Westwood’s life is rendered with intensity and precision’ Simon Garfield, Mail on Sunday
‘A very good book: immaculately researched and full of original observations’ Stephen Bayley, Observer
‘Nobody could read this book and not understand why it is that Westwood continues to interest and infuriate in equal measure’ Lucia van der Post, Financial Times
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The book traces Vivienne Westwood's history, mostly based on interviews (some conducted by the author, some previously published). Large parts of the book consist of anecdotes or stories, many of them showing Westwood in a negative light. Mulvagh presents Westwood as a person who is dependent on, and acts on the ideas of, male mentors, namely Malcolm McLaren, Gary Ness (Westwood's intellectual mentor and "guru"), and Andreas Kronthaler, Westwood's current husband. In some cases Mulvagh claims that Westwood uttered what Mulvagh contemptuously calls "Gary-speak" - that is, a semi-digested repetition of Ness' ideas.
Westwood is presented as a rather humorless person who constantly lectures others and on occasion shamelessly steals ideas from other designers. The latter may be true, but there is a very fuzzy border between inspiration and copying, and even artists such as Michelangelo "copied" or was inspired by other artists' ideas. Also, artists working together on the same project is a common thing, both in the past and the present, and there is nothing wrong with this.
The tone of the book is often condescending (reflecting the attitude of the university graduate towards the degreeless autodidact?). The creative aspect is neglected over large parts of the book; a more detailed discussion of the sources and the type of research done by Westwood would have been of interest for anybody who has a serious interest in fashion or design. The crucial factor of her work - historical research into the cut of extant period garments and then using the results of her research in her collections - is mentioned but largely overshadowed by nasty little anecdotes about Westwood's behaviour and statements about her character and her way of thinking. In the picture sections, it would have been helpful if a historical garment was presented alongside a Westwood garment inspired by it and also a similar-looking piece by another designer that, unlike the Westwood item, has a modern cut. Mulvagh mentions this briefly in the text, but to see pictures of such garments would have made it clearer.
Westwood withdraw her initial support for this book from Mulvagh during the writing, and after reading the book, I understand why, and wonder whether this may have influenced the feelings of the author towards her subject and consequently the content and tone of the book. I assume that it may be tempting to betray confidences made in the context of a personal relationship when one writes a book about the person in question, and that as a journalist, one may lose the feeling for what is private or may ignore it when revealing the information is financially rewarding, but it makes me feel uneasy to read this. It is a pity because, with a slightly different attitude on the part of the author, this might really have become a very good book. It gives a lot of background information but it also makes me feel sorry for Vivienne Westwood because she must have felt betrayed by Mulvagh when this book came out.
You can see why VW didn't want to work with this author. And it should have been heavily edited. Far too long and far too much repetition. Typos too eg Murray Blewitt is also spelt as Bluitt!
Not worth the investment in time or money!
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