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VIVIENNE WESTWOOD: Behind the Curtains

gorm12822When I wrote for a Croatian newspaper, I had a brilliant idea to interview Vivienne Westwood. I thought it would take less than a minute to persuade her. I only needed to ask.

You see, she’s my neighbour. For years I’ve been living in Battersea, opposite her creative studio and Head office. I often meet her. More often I watch her work in her stylish studio. She has built a three-story building for her Head Office, on the roof of that building she’s built a large, open-plan space, where she works until late at nights, during weekends, during holidays. It’s inspiring. The light in her London studio, her orange hair and her pale face that I can see through the studio’s large windows, have replaced the strong sun of my younger years, the sun that used to pound into my eyes from a south-facing balcony, long ago, in the Mediterranean.

I thought: here was the famous woman who could show that after all, after the success, money and power, there was nothing more beautiful than to selflessly dedicate herself to her mission. Your partners and children will all eventually turn to their own missions, or passions, and it should be so, that circle should not be closed, but expanded.

Vivienne arrives at the studio on her bike, which is clearly her old comrade. She lives by her word: always advising us to use things till they fall apart on us. She teaches young people to not be slaves to fashion and shopping. ‘Save money,’ she says. “When you have saved enough to afford a really good quality piece of clothing, you can buy it and wear it until it falls to pieces. And the closer it comes to decay, the better it looks on you.’

Once, I was with my children, buying meat in the neighbourhood. We saw Viv in this French bistro-shop on our street. She was wearing a knee-length flowing skirt and biker boots. Between her skirt and her boots, she had drawn fishnet stockings in black marker on her bare legs.

‘Mama!’ my daughter exclaimed enthusiastically.

I gave her a sign, a ‘Mother’s eye-roll’, to stop there.

‘So, why did she draw stockings on her legs?’ my son later asked. He’s the big brother type of child.

I said that, probably, she thought that a pair of fishnet stockings would bring out the best in that morning’s outfit, she looked for them, couldn’t find them, so she drew them with a black marker on her legs.

‘What a legend,’ the son said.

‘Yes, she is,’ I said.

And, as I once believed that Marlon Brando would certainly agree to come to a provincial, amateur theatre of Podgorica (or Titograd, back then), and play the part of Willy Loman in “The Death of a Salesman” – no fees, of course, because Brando loved exotic countries – so I was convinced that Vivienne would agree to do an interview with me, in a minute; i.e. when I finally decided to walk into her Head Office.

My mother was visiting. She wanted me to go and interview Vivienne asap. What was I waiting for? She couldn’t understand.

‘Just go to those French butchers again and buy a nice roast for Vivienne, take it to her for her lunch, or dinner, tell her: ‘Hi, Vivienne, I see you work hard every day, you should eat something warm,’ and hand her the roast. And while she’s eating, ask your questions. Easy-breezy.’

My only argument was that Vivienne might be a vegetarian. Or a vegan. (Note to self: finally work out the difference.)

‘I guess those French butchers would know how to cook some vegetable,’ my mother said.

In the meantime, I started my Viv W research.

Vivienne does not believe in having a role model, or role models. Well, of course! Neither do I, ever since, during one Sunday family lunch, I asked my father who his idol was, and he surprised me by saying he never had one, he didn’t believe in idols, ‘Except, maybe, Jayne Mansfield,’ he added and laughed.

I was slightly disappointed with dad, those were still my formative years, but that stuck with me. From then on I knew that being inspired by, ahem, certain qualities is more important than having a role model.

Plus, Vivienne is still a ‘punk’. She defines ‘punk’ as her rebellion against the propaganda (or, organized idolatry) which, Aldous Huxley-like, she considers one of the three greatest evils of mankind. The other two are nationalism and the continuous disturbance of mind.

She’s constantly surrounded by a group of young assistants. Often, when I don’t see them behind the windows, I see them in front of the building, and, through a cloud of cigarette smoke, they continue their discussions from ‘upstairs’, poorly dressed for English climate. Vivienne employs and educates them, gives them the tools for the struggles ahead. This reminds me of ancient Greece. And then, on her blog, I have read that the ancient Greece indeed is her most frequent source of inspiration!

So.

So, I walked into her building that day, around noon. Sans hot meal from the French.

It was a very sudden decision, that caught me by surprise. Because, before that, I was in the nearby Coop supermarket, and so I walked into Vivienne’s carrying two plastic PLASTIC bags full of food. I think that one of the bags was punctured by a chicken leg, or a veal rib. I was wearing my very old coat: grey fur and black leather. Some mothers from my daughter’s school told me I looked like a Russky spy in that coat, but I think I look more like Herr Flick with a wig on. At least, I thought, the coat was so old it was literally collapsing on me – something Viv would appreciate.

A young assistant patiently listened to my opening story of how I wrote for a new Croatian daily, and have been for years observing Vivienne, Ms. Westwood, work until late into the nights, her head glowing behind the lit windows of her studio; I have read her Manifesto and her blog, now I wanted to meet her and do an interview with her.

‘Vivienne is currently away from London,’ the girl said. ‘She’s in India. But I will give you her Press Office contact number, call them and ask for Laura, her Press assistant, and be sure to include your little story when you speak to Laura.’

Deeply grateful, I picked up my plastic bags and my coat and left.

I told Laura the whole story.

‘Write us an email about it,’ she said. I wrote an email.

‘Contact Vivienne on her blog with this whole story,’ Laura replied to my mail.

I went to the blog. I read about Westwood’s support to Julien Assange. I watched the documentary film about the destruction, and ventures to preserve Rainforrest. I attended a lecture on the book ….Gaia, or how it is to late to save the world, but we can at least status quo-ize it, or help the group of celebrities and wealthy people with their new mission. When I realized that Viv had returned from India (where, as we were informed, she was a guest on a crazily-luxurious three-day birthday party of Naomi Campbell’s boyfriend), I wrote on her blog, just a hello, followed by my little story about watching her work through the windows…Days passed. I received a letter from a blog-assistent, Cynthia. ‘Call Laura in the Press Office,’ Cynthia wrote. Laura directed me to that first assistent, in the Head Office. And then, some kind of circle was complete.

Night fell. . . Children were finally asleep. I made a cup of tea and went to look at Vivienne’s windows, knowing already that the interview would not happen ‘in a minute’, as I thought.

But there, over Viv’s windows, I saw, for the first time in five years, the thickest and darkest curtains that were most severely drawn, as if glued together. I could have sworn that those heavy curtains never even existed there before. Ha. They were urgently purchased and installed after the visit, the stories and the emails from Herr Flick with a wig, a black leather coat, and with dead animals in plastic bags.

Ha.

I didn’t really need any interviews from Vivienne, I realised. Or from anyone. Everything you want to know about anyone, you can read on their blogs!

I still admire her and I still think she’s a legend, as my son said.

Moreover, she taught me something.

The world is not ruled by money. Money is just another slave in the service of the true ruler. The world is ruled by fear. Fear of the unknown, of different, of ‘Eastern’ or ‘southern’. Famous people are often inaccessible and so unhappy-looking, because in spite of money and power, they don’t feel protected. I understand them, I’m sure I would be like that, if…

Just when she built herself  a total ‘space of her own and of her happiness’ – on the roof of the building in her old hood, with wide windows and open views of the stars – out of nowhere descends a carnivour-stalker in fur and leather, and Vivienne has to watch what she’s doing again, and with whom, because god knows who the woman in the suspicious coat works for; the woman that by now should have already learnt not to disclose her little stories so openly.

But before I learn, I want to have a bit more fun with it; with sharing stories. Because, yes, the road is always better than  the destination. If from time to time we stop to remind ourselves that, we can look at life from a different, more interesting perspective. But the goal is the goal, ‘money is counted when it is given’ – and the end result is what we put in a Resume. So we tend to ignore the road, while we’re travelling it. What a shame.

Well, now, the only thing I’m sorry about is that I never dared to contact Marlon Brando for that part of Willy Loman in ‘The Death of a Salesman’.

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8 thoughts on “VIVIENNE WESTWOOD: Behind the Curtains

  1. This story is much better then your fictional interview with any idol, except with Marlon Brando, and Jane Mansfield, of course.

    Like

  2. I love this story… and then the curtains appear. fantastic. I only wish that i was thee (or perhaps Pam and I and some french fries) to goad you on to ring your neighbor’s doorbell

    Like

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