Vivienne Westwood @ Manchester Literature Festival

By October 25, 2016

Politics. Manchester.

vivienne_westwood_fullDame Vivienne Westwood. The name rolls off the tongue as household names tend to do. After a long introduction from Guardian journalist Lucy Siegle, Westwood practically glides along the stage at Manchester’s Royal Northern College of Music, sitting elegantly down in the armchair opposite Siegle. Her presence is magnificent: unique and enticing. As one of the founders of punk and a leading fashion designer, you would hope she would be wearing something fantastic, and she didn’t disappoint. I won’t pretend I have any idea of the labels she was wearing. I would love to be able to say she was flaunting a Givenchy A/W collection dress with Gucci boots and a 70’s Fendi clutch, or something of the sort, but unfortunately I have no idea. What I can say, though, is that it was the type of outfit that makes you stop in awe. Unbelievably effortless and unbearably cool, it’s vaguely depressing to know your own look can never begin to measure up to this lady’s.

Her new book, Get A Life: The Diaries of Vivienne Westwood, is an amalgamation of her online diaries, offering a real insight into her life as a designer, activist, and idol. The book’s title is fitting: Westwood’s whole presence screams “Get a life!” to an unassuming audience. As she launches into speech, it’s clear that rather than an interview Westwood is going to deliver a monologue, a stream of consciousness communicating her hatred of all involved in British politics—with the possible exception of Caroline Lucas.

It goes without saying that Westwood is an impossibly passionate individual whose boundless drive has got her where she is today. She speaks with real energy, flitting between three topics: climate change, politics, and revolution. Sitting on the edge of her seat for the whole talk, jazz hands in the air constantly, and barely pausing to take breath between sentences, she comes across as a true eccentric. In the first fifteen minutes of her speaking, she flings about buzzwords, reproach for Cameron, May & Co., and reverence for Lovelock and his Gaia hypothesis.

Much of this rhetoric made for difficult listening: at times Westwood seemed like someone who has so much to share, but hasn’t quite worked out how to string it all together in a coherent sentence. Erratic delivery and surface-level jargon made keeping up with her train of thought somewhat difficult, and I struggled to comprehend the bigger picture, instead mostly snatching loose ends such as the importance of switching to eco-energy, and that “1 million people control 7 billion people—and that’s not right.”

I say I only got these two things from the talk, but I suppose these are most likely the two things she aimed to get across. In driving home the potential perils of climate change and the shocking power imbalances which define global relations, she is assertive and convincing. It barely matters that her argument wasn’t strung together in perfect logic, as her tone and mannerisms said it all: as individuals, we have a responsibility to take action and spread the word about the dangers of climate change. The problem is: How do we do this? How can we possibly bring this ‘revolution’ about? I’m hoping her book holds the answer.