When you think of Vivienne Westwood, what comes to mind? Burning red hair, swashbuckled stylings, SEX, Seditionaries, and the birth of punk, perhaps; a woman who will pose nude—at the age of 68, maybe; a perennial anarchist; a dreamer. Certainly not delicacy or fragility. And Ballet? Not so much. But news is in that the protopunk legend has designed a collection of luxe dancing costumes for next Wednesday’s New Year’s Vienna State Ballet.
The costumes reach deep into Westwood’s romantic oeuvre. There’s plenty of tulle, and a silk and taffeta piece that plays off a look from the Grand Dame’s Internet-era-meets-Middle Age S/S ’14 collection. There are mini tartan kilts and bustiers—it is Westwood after all.
There’s also a lot of silk…and while the combination—ever-transgessive Westwood + point toe, stylistically wistful perfectionism—may seem antithetical at first, a look into the designer’s ideals may suggest that she’s closer in spirit to the heart of ballet than costume designers of seasons & companies past. (Olivier Theyskens, Altuzarra, Valentino, Stella McCartney and Giles Mendels have all lent their hands to The New York City Ballet’s immaculately constructed tutus, to name a few).
“Are you talking about romantic with a capital R, like the Romantic movement of the 1830s—the suffering, consumptive beauty?” Westwood said to Tim Blanks in the summer of 2012. “I don’t know, maybe it’s that sort of nostalgia somehow; some sort of longing for the past or longing for a world that doesn’t exist. I always design for a parallel universe; a world that doesn’t exist. You know, one that’s like this but better.”
This crusading-and very much romantic- moda operandi was true for Seditionaries in the late ‘70s – the label on the attire read, “Clothes for Heroes.” Are the four acts of love, regret, death, and absolution of the Vienna ballet all that different?