PRINT February 2023


Vivienne Westwood in front of her and Malcolm McLaren’s shop Seditionaries, London, 1977. Photo: Elisa Leonelli/Shutterstock.

VIVIENNE WESTWOOD. Where to start? This writer was born in London, Wembley, Middlesex, to Jamaican parents and raised in Brooklyn from the age of six or seven. Canarsie and King’s Road are miles apart culturally, yet it didn’t stop my hairdresser mom’s W subscription from arriving to our door every week at East Ninety-Sixth Street. I clocked the plaid bondage, the whitest of skin, and the crazy pink, red, and blue hair. It was 1976. The safety-pin piercings cinched the imagery. Crazy to think that something associated with diapers and DIY clothing repair would become a symbol of rebellion and anarchy and go on to influence high fashion in more ways than one. The Seditionaries tops with the Tom of Finland–like imagery also struck a chord: I couldn’t get over these man-on-man images being incorporated into punk.

The subversion of Viv’s and Malcolm McLaren’s input-output went way beyond demographics: It was so frank and enlightening, different from everything that was going on. I don’t know who got the scoop first, the Village Voice or the SoHo Weekly News, where Kim Hastreiter was fashion editor and a mentor-hangout buddy of mine. But the Westwood-McLaren Brit invasion took hold in the downtown culture bubble. This was 1980–81, about half a decade after my initial introduction via W; punk was mainstream and about to cede to an embrace of Neo Romantic aesthetics. All I knew was punk was dead, and New Wave—the commercialization of punk ideology—was not an option; novelty was key.

I was at Brooklyn Technical High School when I met a set of girls known as the Rat Pack who introduced me to the Rock Lounge, Botany, and Club A. The gorgeous Kool Lady Blue, aka Ruza Blue, brought her lauded Friday-night “Wheels of Steel” parties to the Roxy while also running Vivienne and Malcolm’s Worlds End 2 store on Prince Street. So Vivienne’s clothes had not only a platform but a showcase. I was out there wearing the brocaded pirate pants and vests, squiggle-print scarves and T-shirts and eventually the Nostalgia of Mud titty-connector fishnet tank until their ends. All these garments were entities unto themselves and forever cemented my perception of what clothes could be.

Imagine being a teenager absorbing all this en directe. The thing about these clothes is that they were even better in real life than in the runway photographs I’d see in Italian Vogue, Blitz, the Japanese fashion magazine Ryuko Tsushin, or our bible, I-D Magazine. The garments inspired total devotion and a certain self-consciousness, which was eased by their disheveled yet opulent glamour and anomalistic presence. Gosh, I’d have loved to be there when she was choosing the fabrics for the 1981–82 Pirate collection.

It’s very difficult to piece together exactly how I met Vivienne and Malcolm, but Malcolm was scooping up a lot of local talent in New York and I was cutting class and spending lots of time at the clubs and in Susanne Bartsch’s boutique and Worlds End 2. In 1983, on one of my second trips to Paris for the fashion shows, my girlfriend-muse Leslie Macayza, who’d modeled for Vivienne and Malcolm’s Buffalo Gals, was asked to walk in the Witches collection, and I got stuck putting together swimwear on a straight stitch machine. Vivienne’s unpreparedness endeared her to me, as I’d already been amateurishly attempting my own fashion shows with friends. I remember Vivienne’s face when she spoke. She always seemed to be questioning everything.

There’s so much more to say. Vivienne is the rebel’s rebel, imbuing her clothes with historicity, personal know-how, and intuition. The clothes opened our perception and made us think. It makes sense that she started out as a primary-school teacher. Her late ’80s and ’90s work is beyond reproach and serves all inquiry. I’m not a historian, just a fashion designer with an observant yet noted presence within the community. These considerations pay tribute to my undying love and soft spot for Vivienne, whose work with Malcolm helped inspire my ongoing obsession with fashion as a tool of expression.

Andre Walker is a fashion designer currently based in New York.