The discussions during the fittings in the Vivienne Westwood studio were both verbal and physical – i.e., they included moving things around. Both ways of communication appeared equally important. They dealt with the artefacts at a formal level, asking questions regarding the garment’s physical qualities (in relation to the body that is being dressed), such as lengths, proportions, silhouettes, and how the body moved in or together with the garment.
At this point, representational and associative aspects played a less important part, though sometimes, decisions took an unexpected turn because a fitted prototype referred to something different than had been intended. For example, the school blazer became a pea coat, causing details that refer to a pea coat to be added. The formal aspects of the bodily expressions were the ones usually stretching out towards new domains, whereas the representational ones were a model to which to relate the work – i.e., they were aspects that helped one to form guidelines, either for following or revolting against.
This does not mean that the collections did not include narrative elements – rather the opposite, as stories of different kinds often fuelled and directed Vivienne’s interest – but when it came to creating and evaluating the actual prototypes, the expression of the body, itself, was in primary focus. Many of the designs were experimental to such an extent that any other approach would not have made sense, as it would have been difficult to find anything for them to refer to apart from the fabric, the body, and the shape that they created. As Vivienne explained, the approach was:
– We have to see all the possible solutions. It’s a process of elimination. We have to try out all possibilities.
The logic of the decisions was taken from what we visually saw in front of us and how the garments interacted with the body wearing them. This is clear in the comments that Iris made when she was looking at some of the garments fitted.
– I like the idea of the circle in the front.
– What I am interested in with this top is that it is straight across the bust. I find that very interesting.
Here, it was the straightness of that specific line that made that top interesting to Iris, and that line would then become the focus for further developments and experiments.
What evoked that interest was precisely how the line affected the expression of the body, and this interest then led to a more technical investigation into how to construct such a straight line running across the bust, and it also led to trying out different shapes in combination with different materials, eventually returning to the line on the body and the new expressions that this investigation possibly resulted in.
At first, Vivienne’s comment about me being “selfish and unconscious” when I suggested a longer belt puzzled me (Nov. 10th). What caused her to consider the suggestion of making a longer belt draping across the back a lazy act, and what makes an act of design a selfish one? I gradually understood that the decisions made during these fittings were somehow made from a logic based on a certain in-house aesthetics. This aesthetic logic related to the function of the dress, the balance of the composition, and Vivienne’s never-ending desire to challenge conventions.
This aesthetic logic related to the function of the dress, the balance of the composition, and Vivienne’s never-ending desire to challenge conventions.
A similar logic is described by Yamamoto (2010:112) as “finding the point of rapture” – the perfect point for a single button, or the perfect length and position of a belt. At every fitting of a garment in the Westwood studio, the garments were rigorously examined on the fitting model and every detail was questioned, with buttons moved back and forth and length decreased centimetre by centimetre – all so as to find the perfect point or length. In the words of Yamamoto, it was “an act of concentrated seeing; of focused looking that was the fuel for the creative work” (Yamamoto, 2010:61).
Hence, a belt would not be added if there was no need for a belt. That need may have been a merely functional one, but it rarely was. The functions of expressiveness and utility were not distinguished, even though the utilisation aspects differed depending on what type of garments we worked with. For the pea coat, for example, the belt was added first as a reference detail even though once it was in place, according to this logic, there was no reason for it if it did not function as a belt, i.e., by pulling the garment together. The only reason, then, for increasing a belt’s length would be simply because I could, which would constitute a selfish or unconscious act. As I understood this, it was easier for me to see design work as less of a personal matter and more about understanding and adopting this logic of creation. The work focused on visual lines and shapes as well as how these transformed the expression of the body. The fabric and the human form constituted the guide to discovering new expressions (Yamamoto, 2010:67). The construction, or cutting, became a concept in itself, or as Andreas put it:
– There is no idea; there is never an idea. As you know.
The starting points were different from design to design. Sometimes, it was in depth studies of a photograph of an old couture dress with a focus on a certain quality, such as the shape that a certain sleeve created, or a hemline highlighting the legs in a flattering way. Sometimes, the work started out from experiments with shapes such as rectangular pieces combined on the body in various ways to create new dresses. The centre of attention, however, was always the body that we were dressing. Whatever the starting point of a new design was, the first step was always to assemble a wearable prototype for it to be studied on a living body. Then, an evaluation could be made of, say, how a certain neckline highlighted the collarbone or how the volume of the skirt in movement contrasted against the legs. Iris, the senior cutter, approached this pragmatically, by working just as much on her own body in front of the mirror as on the dress-stand or on the cutting table. Thus, even if the work begins from a historical pattern, a garment from the archive and its pattern, or experiments with geometrical shapes, Andreas’s comments accurately described the working conditions:
– It is not about the pattern, it is all about the body and what the garments do with the body.