On the day of Vivienne Westwood’s memorial, model Lily Cole recalls her relationship with the late designer. TRUTH emblazoned underneath her tentative smile in white font and a red box like a Barbara Kruger, pinned to Vivienne Westwood’s “Climate Revolution” DIY top. “It’s incredible no one knows who this is.
You don’t know who she is?” Vivienne asks me in her soft Derbyshire lilt. She audibly gasps as I shake my head. “It’s amazing. Amazing. I’m here to try and do something about her.” The photograph, I quickly learn, is of whistleblower Chelsea Manning.
By Vivienne’s side—now and for more than 30 years of their colorful shared lives—stands her husband, Andreas Kronthaler, the dashing, tender artistic director of their fashion label. We discuss the Amazonian-wild-rubber dress they’ve designed for me to wear to the Met Gala tonight and Chico Mendes, the wild-rubber-tapping activist who lost his life fighting to protect the rainforest. Vivienne listens intently, as always, then shares her observations, gesticulating—palms out—for emphasis.
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This is why, on this April 2013 day, Vivienne traveled to New York, accepting Vogue’s invitation to attend the punk-themed Met Gala despite the paradoxes implied. She and Andreas are here to bring messages to the widest possible audience. “We’re out for the cause!” Andreas urges me, playfully enacting how I might talk to the cameras about the rainforest.
Vivienne Westwood, Andreas Kronthaler, and Lily Cole attend the Costume Institute Gala for the “PUNK: Chaos to Couture” exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 6, 2013.
What did Lily Cole say about Vivienne?
It was through the language of visual activism that Vivienne and I bonded: The Amazonian-wild-rubber dress was one of a series of our collaborations, which included wearing a recycled-plastic dress to the Oscars and handing out protest cards for climate refugees after I performed a pagan dance for her London show. When we went together to an event with Queen Elizabeth II, she offered me a paper crown to wear. Over the years, we discussed many topics, yet I don’t recall ever discussing fashion.
She was an independent thinker who drank art, literature, and politics through one straw and blew bubbles of ideas, designs, and theories into the world through another.
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Vivienne began her career as a primary school teacher and remained always curious, studying Taoism in later years. In their final phone conversation, Gene reflects, “She saw nature as revealing the truth.”