Vivienne Westwood Red Label Fall 2010 London Fashion Week

Times change and veteran punk designer Vivienne Westwood addapts, all while remaining true to herself. Her Red Label collection was a mix of prim and proper pieces layered with textures and prints, amongst which the designer’s signature tartans were stratigically placed. As expected, the designer incorporated a rebellious element by having the models proclaim their “Loyalty to Gaia”, a message printed on some pieces.

What better way is there to represent mother nature in all her glory than to pull inspiration from Renaissance painterly traditions? After all, artists from the period were inspired to better and develop modes of representation with the sole purpose of representing more accurately the beauty of nature. Vivienne Westwood is known for being inspired by subversive cultural movements, but she has also over the years proven to be sensitive to past artistic movements as well. I couldn’t help but feel that this time, she was channeling not only her love for Mother Earth and supporting today’s ecologists but was also inspired by Renaissance painting. 

The clothes were slightly reminiscent of the Renaissance silouhette as strong shoulders and  diverse styles of sleeves were featured. The wealth of an individual all throughout the Renaissance was often shown off by wearing excentric and artfully executed sleeves. The predominant colors were rich browns and shades of reds like burgundy and crimson, typical of a fall collection but also revered as the more elegant dies during the Renaissance. I also couldn’t help but think of characters of the Comedia del’Arte, as the mix of argiles and plaids as well as a strtegically placed mask on a headress were reminscent of harlequins and pierrots. Carnival in Venice was lived at it’s fullest during the Renaissance years, when society was tightly regulated by  social decorum and sumptuary laws.

However, what prompts me to say that Dame Vivienne Westwood was inspired by Renaissance Art isn’t because of the clothes per-se, but rather because of the show’s styling. The subject-matter itself isn’t so typical of the period, but the visual language used to represent it is very much so. The assymetrical cuts, oversized pieces and abundant layering gave the outfits an air of constant movement, as did the hair which was artfully back-combed and teased into whimsical swirls over the model’s heads. The main actors of the Renaissance were fascinated by classical aesthetics, hence the enthusiasm for ample draping and textiles movement in many of the period’s masterpieces. Fueled by the desire to accurately represent nature they payed more attention to perspective, texture, and of course the human form and it’s movement.

In both the clothing design and the styling of the collection, there is a frequent contrasting between saturated colors and shades which could be seen as a contrast between shadow and light or chiaroscuro. Chiaroscuro is a technique of representation said to have originated during the Renaissance that implies a use of contrast between shadow and light to create volume and three-dimensionality, especially when dealing with the human body as subject-matter. It was frequently used when representing scenes of divine interventions, where light was considered holy and the contrast between shadow and light added a dramatic visual effect to the scene. The make-up used on the model’s faces were very much inspired by this dramatic lighting effect, as they emulated the effect that a candle or a flash-light would have on someone’s face in a dark setting. The model’s features were not transformed or enhanced by cosmetics but rather highlighted and put into relief by an artificia lighting effect created by the make-up artists.

Carravaggio’s The Calling of St Matthew’s 1599-1600 oil on canvas (left). Tintoretto’s Pieta (descent from the cross) 1559 (right).

Chiaroscuro is a term now used in both cinema and photography analysis, so why not apply it to the study of fashion design and styling? Dame Vivienne Westwood’s fall 2010 fashion show proves again that some techniques of representation are just too good to ever get old and that the Renaissance left an important legacy that will continue to condition all fields in visual culture, art and design.

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