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With an ever-enduring reverence for British tradition, the most distinctive aspect of Westwood’s designs has been her deep interest in history – and the references to it throughout her work. “Every fabric that you look at in England has a charge of content,” she once stated. Her recurrent use of tartan, an extension of this. One is only to recall the ‘Time Machine’ collection of Autumn/Winter 1988-89 – when halfway through the show, Michael Clark performed the Ghillie Callum, sword dance. Complete with bagpipe accompaniment, the dancer was dressed in full tartan Highland regalia. The fabric has, in turn, embodied all forms and tones throughout the seasons.
Drawing inspiration from the 18th century French craze for British dress, the Anglomania collection of Autumn/Winter 1993-94 offered an interplay between elaborate French couture-inspired technique and masterful English tailoring – counting the appearance of clashing clan tartans. Slick double-breasted suiting (fit for 19th century gentlemen) was worn alongside tartan mini kilts, with exaggerated tam o’shanter hats – presenting ladies as lairds. For this collection, Westwood worked with weavers Lochcarron of Scotland to design her own tartan – the MacAndreas, named after her husband and design partner Andreas Kronthaler. This fabric was added to the Scottish Register of Tartans that same year.
VIVIENNEWESTWOODReady To Wear FALL 1993ParisCredit: MARIA VALENTINO
The collaboration was of such success that Westwood continued to introduce her own tartan styles thereafter, giving them names like MacPoiret (after the French master couturier, Paul Poriet). For her Autumn/Winter 1996-97 collection, entitled ‘Storm in a Teacup’, Westwood prolonged her interest in designer clothes that ‘sat asymmetric and askew on the body,’ (as Alexander Fury articulates in Catwalk). Many pieces were executed in patterned fabrics, notably tartan, deliberately cut on the cross-grain for visual effect – the patterns clashing rather than matching. “How many tartans can you work into one outfit?” asked Woman’s Wear Daily. “Viv managed to do at least a dozen.”
With a further ode to British tailoring and heritage fabrics, the Spring-Summer 2023 pre-collection played on classic Vivienne Westwood house codes – tartan making a natural reappearance. Evolving the original ‘MacAndreas’ tartan created in the early 90s, the fabric has been updated with the use of neon yarns, designed across tailoring, polo shirts, as well as knitwear. The ‘right’ and ‘wrong side’ of the tartan jacquard also alternates throughout the styles, offering a contemporary touch to each piece. New developments for this season also include the women’s ‘Tartan Dress’ and ‘Tartan Skirt’, with the addition of unique silhouettes.
Above all, Westwood’s continued use of tartan connects the now with the then. It approaches fashion through a contemporary lens, as opposed to merely constituting an exercise in rehash. “You can’t copy the past – even when you try to copy, you discover things from today,” Westwood affirmed. With the Spring-Summer 2023 collection prolonging the notion – introducing novel versions of the heritage fabric – the house’s continued relationship with history remains as palpable as ever. As Westwood confessed: “I can’t help using these fabrics that had a purpose and a story. They’re so terribly attractive.”