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Trend, intercourse and drag: Vivienne Westwood’s queer legacy


I used to be 13 years outdated once I found Vivienne Westwood. The music got here first. From the second I heard the album By no means Thoughts the Bollocks, This is the Intercourse Pistols, I used to be hooked. Inside just a few months, I used to be spending my pocket cash on a knock-off Westwood design – tartan bondage trousers. My punk look was accomplished with ripped t-shirts held along with security pins, a custom-made denim jacket with bullet holes within the again, and Doc Martens boots.

It is solely lately that I’ve come to know that what appealed to me most concerning the punk aesthetic, pioneered by Vivienne Westwood within the mid-to-late Nineteen Seventies, was its queerness. From the beginning of her profession in design, Westwood’s garments de ella challenged and undermined gender norms, and it is in all probability for that purpose why she is so revered by the LGBTQI + neighborhood.

Westwood started promoting garments at a store at 430 Kings Street, Chelsea along with her then boyfriend, Malcolm McLaren in 1971. The third and most radical incarnation of that store SEX, bought rubber and leather-based fetish gear alongside designs by McLaren and Westwood, together with the unique bondage trousers that I coveted as a teen.

That is the place the queer, S&M aesthetic of punk got here from.

Image of SEX scanned from an grownup journal known as Gallery Worldwide (1976).

queer aesthetic

Queerness as a theoretical and cultural thought was introduced into prominence within the Nineteen Eighties by the French thinker Michel Foucault. Merely put, queer idea is a research of all the things that sits exterior of the heteronormative.

Heteronormativity locations heterosexual need because the normative (how issues should be) system of society. This consists of the idea in binary gender, and presupposes outlined male/feminine, masculine/female conduct. The rest, together with sexual behaviors perceived as deviant similar to sadomasochism, is aberrant (queer).

It was on the SEX store in 1975 that McLaren and Westwood first bought the enduring homosexual cowboys T-shirt. A topic chosen extra for its shock worth than for purpose of allyship. It contains a design appropriated from American artist Jim French with two males in cowboy garments with out pants, penises nearly touching, whereas one arranges the handkerchief across the neck of his pal.

The textual content under: “Elo Joe. Been anyplace these days? Nah, it is all performed aht, Invoice. Gettin’ too straight”, paradoxically, mourns the lack of queer areas. It is prophetic of the as soon as hidden world of homosexual subculture that’s now uncovered to the mainstream.

The long-lasting homosexual cowboys tshirt designed by McLaren and Westwood.
Vivienne Westwood web site

That t-shirt led to prosecutions for indecency for store assistant, Alan Jones, and for Westwood and McLaren too. It grew to become a staple of punk uniform worn by Siouxsie Sioux, Sid Vicious, and plenty of others moreover.

Sid Vicious carrying his homosexual cowboys t-shirt in 1977 (photograph by Dennis Morris).

Difficult the gender binary

Queerness and the problem to binary gender in style have been part of Westwood’s designs since she moved her garments from the excessive road to the excessive style runway.

For her Pirate assortment in 1981 the designer let the fashions, female and male, select the garments themselves no matter gender. It was a method bought at Worlds Finish the ultimate incarnation of 430 Kings Street, transformed to recommend a pirate ship. The store stays a mecca for Westwood devotees at the moment. The pirate look was worn by Malcolm McLaren’s music protégés Adam Ant, Boy George, and Bow Wow Wow: New Romantic dandies who performed with gender and androgyny.

Vivienne Westwood runways featured males in skirts and attire lengthy earlier than, Harry Kinds, Sam Smith, and Jaden Smith had been carrying non-binary fashions to red-carpet occasions.

Vivienne Westwood and fashions pose for photographers at her Autumn/Winter 2020 style week showcase in London, Friday, Feb. 14, 2020.
Grant Pollard/Invision/AP

The current style for males carrying pearl necklaces and pearl drop earrings was equally foreshadowed by Westwood who had males in pearls on the runway from the early Nineteen Nineties. Westwood pearl jewelery has by no means been extra in style. Timothée Chalamet cemented his “fairly boy” status when he wore a Vivienne Westwood pearl choker to the premiere of the movie Bones and All in Rome final 12 months.

Westwood and drag tradition

When Westwood died on 29 December 2022, tributes flowed from the style and leisure neighborhood. Amongst them had been most of the stars of the worldwide actuality tv hit RuPaul’s Drag Race. This 12 months, RuPaul’s Drag Race launched its fifteenth season in North America. Its transfer to MTV (remaining on Stan in Australia) has secured a spot within the mainstream for the subversive queer tradition of drag.

British drag star Bimini Bom Boulash took to Instagram, posting:

Heartbroken on the information. If solely the world was extra like Vivienne Westwood. Relaxation in Energy Vivienne. My Inspiration perpetually.

Winner of the primary season of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK, The Vivienne, who takes her identify from the designer, posted:

Vivienne Westwood is the girl that confirmed me I may do something, I may put on what I wished, she was an ICON and I lived my life by means of hers in some kind of approach.

Raja Gemini who took the Crown of season three of Drag Race is extensively considered at the start among the many style queens. Her de ella runway look from episode 5: a high-piled powered wig, corset, and trousers printed with pastel shapes harking back to French Rococo work strongly remembers Westwood’s 1991 Portrait assortment. For those who hear rigorously, you may even hear the present’s choose Michelle Visage say “there’s Westwood” as Raja walks out on the mainstage.

Below the inventive course of Westwood’s husband, Andreas Kronthaler, the model has turn out to be a frontrunner in non-binary style. Skirts, attire, and heels are worn by fashions no matter their gender id.

It’s below Kronthaler that the previous contests and famous style queens of Drag Race have turn out to be a part of the Westwood household. Drag queen Milk was photographed for a Westwood SS2018 marketing campaign by Jurgen Teller to coincide with the opening of a brand new boutique in New York Metropolis in 2018. Queens Miss Fame and Symone sat entrance row at Vivienne Westwood exhibits for Paris Trend Week dressed within the designer’s garments in 2021.

Miss Fame and Symone attend the Vivienne Westwood Spring-Summer time 2022 ready-to-wear style present offered in Paris, Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021.
Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP

Now, some 30 years after I first came upon about her work, I am fortunate sufficient to personal Westwood garments. Carrying one among her kilts from her, a billowing toga shirt, wonky “alcoholic trousers”, and pirate boots raises eyebrows and admiration in equal measure. Westwood as soon as stated: “you will have a extra attention-grabbing life when you put on spectacular garments”.

I can attest to that. Her garments from her make me really feel extra authentically myself as a queer individual.

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