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Vivienne revered the Wallace Collection for everything it embodies. With its opulent rooms – housing renowned works of art from the eighteenth century – she described the museum as ‘a jewel box’ of treasures. ‘The Wallace Collection is the greatest art school in the country’. To her, the museum epitomised the century; ‘A high point of culture’. Her own designs would go on to reference the era, lending an air of opulence to contemporary fashion.

Each Vivienne Westwood collection reveals a narrative – or as journalist Alexander Fury offers, ‘A story that inspires; suggesting characters that then determine outfits.’ The Portrait collection of Autumn-Winter 1990/91 was dedicated to the richness of eighteenth-century oil painting – drawing directly from the decorative universe of the Wallace Collection. ‘Portrait was a turning point,’ reflects Fury. ‘Sensuous and escapist, it set Vivienne Westwood on a new course for almost a decade’. For the first time, Vivienne reproduced a painting on a piece of clothing, choosing ‘Daphnis and Chloe’ by François Boucher, 1743-5. She printed the painting across the front of her Stature of Liberty corset; a style that would become synonymous with the house. ‘I wanted the look of a model who'd just stepped out of a portrait,’ she explained. ‘I wanted canvas in my collection - and even more, I wanted an actual photographic painting. That is when I decided to choose the Boucher, being so typical and so pretty.’

  • Wallace Collection
  • Wallace Collection

The painting was also reproduced and printed onto accessories, namely on decorative shawls framed in gold – presented like masterpieces, made fluid. ‘I wanted to use the things that most epitomised paintings,’ Vivienne noted. Accordingly, fabrics of lace, velvet, knits, tweed, city-stripe cotton, tartan, linen and satin, were complemented by costume jewellery. ‘Each fabric had to be an epitome,’ she reflected. ‘Velvet printed with designs from furniture in the Wallace Collection – and I introduced the giant dropdown pearl earring. It was incredibly hard to source, but within three months, they were in every department store.’ Vivienne felt the idea of a single pearl earring, or even three strands of pearls, was so timeless and typical of the era, that they could look good in any period.

Westwood Pearls

Nods to Rococo art continued to resurface throughout Vivienne’s designs, many of which were inspired by pieces from the Wallace collection: the intricacy of Fragonard’s 'The Swing’ (1767) printed across accessories; plate armour-inspired jackets, for the Time Machine collection of 1988; the turquoise tones of Sèvres porcelain, adorning gowns and outerwear; a gold motif, deriving from a brass interlay pattern on the back of a mirror - by furniture designer André-Charles Boulle - laid over velvet and tulle; or 18th century touches throughout our recent Spring-Summer 2024 collection, where a painterly mood is seen in sky blue jacquards, emulating the kiss of Boucher’s Hercules and Omphale, 1703-70. By allowing the cultural and aesthetic significance of these works to take on new forms, Vivienne's creations approached the status of masterpieces themselves. ‘I believe that art is a mirror on life,’ she expressed. ‘It gives us the depth of understanding of how other people lived. I have been inspired by it my whole career. I believe that pursuing art gives you this wonderful anchor; you can engage in politics, you can get a view of the world, and you always feel like you're making progress.