Sep 26, 2007
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In Milan, a retrospective of Vivienne Westwood's provocative career

Sep 26, 2007

MILAN, Italy, Sept 26, 2007 (AFP) - British designer Vivienne Westwood's warm eccentricity and frank sensuality imbue a retrospective opening Wednesday, September 26th in Milan alongside fashion week.

Vivienne Westwood in the exhibition of Palazzo Reale in Milano Photo : Christophe Simon/AFP

Westwood, radiant at 66 with flamboyant red locks poking out of a grey military cap, said she started out with the aim of helping her then fiance Malcom McLaren, the manager of the punk group The Sex Pistols, to dress vocalist Johnny Rotten and the band.

The couple's first clothing shop, initially named Let It Rock and later SEX, on London's King's Road rapidly became legendary, mirroring The Sex Pistols' success on the stage.

Westwood, speaking at a press presentation on Monday, recalled making heads turn while walking down the street in her designs while all around her were in the uniform hippie styles of the early 1970s.

But Westwood thinks a fashion revolution such as hers is no longer possible. "Every stone has been turned," she said.

Tracing Westwood's 35-year career, the retrospective at Milan's Palazzo Reale sets the tone with a black T-shirt with leather sleeves and a pattern of small bones linked together by metal chains on the front, an early creation from her "trash" years.

From fishnet tights to torn Scottish kilts and billowy white blouses full of holes, the some 150 designs were curated for the exhibit by London's Victoria and Albert museum.

They reflect the mixture of eccentricity and sensuality that has defined Westwood's work since her inaugural "Pirate" collection unveiled in London in 1981.

Westwood has made a career of provocation, even showing up at Buckingham Palace with no knickers in 1992 when Queen Elizabeth II made her an Officer of the British Empire.

Many photographers recorded the fact when an updraft caught Westwood's frock.

Among the many quirky shoes in the retrospective, an electric blue pair stand out -- the nine-inch heels on a four-inch platform from which Naomi Campbell famously took a tumble in 1993.

Corsets, another of the designer's strengths and leitmotifs, were repeatedly revisted through the years, be it with blue mirror sequins, baby pink lace or fabrics that seem to come straight off a romantic English painting.

Today, even the most classic designers showing their collections in Milan have a touch of Westwood in their designs, such as a formal tweed suit with exaggerated shoulders or hips suggesting the silhouette of a femme fatale.

The show runs until January 20.

By Katia Dolmadjian

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