It’s not every day that a fashion show opens in complete silence and an eerie modern dance, and closes with an appeal for the audience to fill in a postcard to the United Nations.
But Vivienne Westwood isn’t just anyone, and her runway showcases are never just about the clothes. The talking point of her Red Label display at London Fashion Week on Sunday was all about the solo opening dance performed by model Lily Cole, which Westwood said expressed both their concerns about climate change.
“The metaphor was the dance of the red shoes,” she said after the show, adding that she believed humans are trapped in a destructive path toward disaster, like the dancer trapped by her shoes in the macabre Hans Christian Anderson fable.
“I just use fashion as an excuse to talk about politics,” she said. Activism and fashion aren’t in conflict for her, she added. “Because I'm a fashion designer, it gives me a voice, which is really good.”
The designs that followed Cole’s performance - one in which she leapt and spun around in an ethereal gray gown, bathed in red light - carried through with the theme. One model, for example, wore a climate change slogan T-shirt under a metallic brocade tube dress, and there were giant fabric flowers and green floral prints to reference nature.
To drive the point home, all models wore exaggerated, frightening zombie-like makeup, which Westwood said resembled animals caught in car headlights.
Regardless of the moral message, Westwood’s signature looks were all there, although the collection was relatively small: draped dresses, slim tailored coats, the cinched-in dress suit, the femme fatale jumpsuit.
At the end, Westwood came out with Cole, urging everyone present to sign a climate change postcard that they will send to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
They were cheered and applauded, and some people did pick up the postcards, though others in the audience didn't take to the message so kindly. “This is getting really awkward,” one told her friends as Westwood made her appeal, and bolted for the exit as soon as she could.
The grand dame of British fashion, as she is known, has been making headlines in recent years more for her activism than her runway collections. A few weeks ago, she joined forces with anti-fracking campaigners in England at a demonstration camp, and last season she used her catwalk show to campaign for WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange.
Even so, Westwood seemed to dismiss suggestions that she might give up design altogether for campaigning. Asked what she wanted to focus on in the future, she said simply: “Fashion forever.”
Vivienne Westwood highlights climate change at London Fashion Week