PARIS, France — One suspects Régis Debray, the French academic and adviser to François Mitterrand, would have a thing or two to say about Vivienne Westwood, the grandmother of punk fashion who decided to create a collection celebrating Venice for Spring 2016. Debray has called the city “the capital of idiocy," preferring the authentic grit of Naples to the Disneyfied beauty of the old city-state. For Westwood though, Venice served as a symbol — not of tourism, but of the threat of climate change and rising sea levels. And the collection therefore picked up where her June menswear presentation left off, with a similar call to arms.
Westwood has often talked about the importance of culture, of knowing your Titians from your Tintorettos so to say. So Venice — while admittedly also a bastion of thoughtless tourism — united both her interest in classical culture, and her penchant for taking a political stance. Add to the mix the tradition of the carnival, another theme that fits easily into the Westwood universe. Historically, the carnival was a time of dissolved borders, of rich and poor swapping places, and of transgressions. In the collection this was translated into outfits of simple, natural materials, set against sumptuous embellishments. There were also slogans like “Destroy” and “Repopulate Venice” alongside veils serving as masks (one of these seemed to portray a distorted face) and a harlequin costume, albeit in a blown-up houndstooth pattern.
There were references to 19th century dressing, variations of tailcoats, but with broad 1980s — or 1940s — shoulders. There were the usual expertly draped dresses. There were also nods to Westwood history: pirate hats and the rawness of the 'Nostalgia of Mud' period. Maybe it was a bit all over the place, and maybe it felt like we were exposed to a lot of product. But product is where fashion seems to be these days. And, from what I gather, Westwood is showing significant commercial momentum in women's accessories at the moment. At today's show, there was certainly plenty of good product to go around.