March 8 – April 2, 2011
Vivienne Westwood, 1980-89 examined Vivienne Westwood's transformation from street provocateur to high-end fashion designer during the 1980s. Westwood began the decade outside the mainstream, as a designer of subcultural style, but as her work evolved so did her level of press coverage and the breadth of her clientele. By 1989, she was a celebrated vanguard in the fashion world. The magnitude of her remarkable rise was confirmed when she was named British Designer of the Year in both 1990 and 1991.
The exhibition featured garments drawn exclusively from the Museum at FIT's permanent collection, as well as complementary photographs, magazines, and videos. Several looks from Westwood's early years were shown, including an ensemble from the influential Pirate collection of 1981. The slouchy, 18th-century inspired Pirate clothes could be worn by both men and women, and were a perfect fit for the post-punk aesthetic of the New Romantics. Westwood's witty clothes in the early 1980s were produced in collaboration with her partner at the time, artist and music manager Malcolm McLaren. Their work was closely tied to the music scene, and the designs were worn by club kids and bands on MTV.
In 1984, Westwood and McLaren ended their partnership, and Westwood unveiled her first solo collection in 1985. Her designs for the latter half of the decade revealed a clear aesthetic shift to a more structured and feminine approach. As seen in the exhibition, a tartan and tweed ensemble from the Time Machine collection (Fall/Winter 1988-89) modernizes the aesthetic of traditional British dress: the fabrics are conventional, but the cuts are innovative and contemporary. Westwood again puts a spin on historical style with her corset and pannier skirt (also from Time Machine) which showcase her ability to update historical shapes for a fashion-conscious audience. According to Museum at FIT director Dr. Valerie Steele, the revival of the corset was perhaps the most important of Westwood's innovations.
The exhibition concluded with a never-before-exhibited menswear ensemble from the Civilizade collection (Spring/Summer 1989). This bi-colored knit ensemble, with articulated elbow- and kneepads, combined Westwood's interest in medieval heraldry with padding that is usually associated with skateboarding. The outfit underscores Westwood's ability to unite historical costume, street culture, and mainstream fashion elements that continue to be relevant to her work today.