Photo by Hedvig Jenning courtesy of Vivienne Westwood e1718738355764

Vivienne Westwood’s Collection Heads to Auction at Christie’s London

Christie’s on King Street decorated for the Vivienne Westwood sale. AFP

If you’ve walked around London recently, you might have seen a stunning takeover of the Christie’s King Street façade paying tribute to the creativity of Vivienne Westwood, one of the most influential and pioneering designers of our times. The striking new signage commemorates the Vivienne Westwood: The Personal Collection auction, an upcoming set of sales that dives into Westwood’s visual and poetic taste. Some of the most important and iconic looks that she created and wore in the last four decades of her life will go on the block, with the pieces up for sale selected by Andreas Kronthaler, Westwood’s husband and creative director of her brand. There are more than 200 lots in the two auctions, and proceeds from the sales will raise funds for the causes the designer supported throughout her life: The Vivienne Foundation, Amnesty International, Médecins Sans Frontières and Greenpeace.

“Vivienne’s sense of activism, art and style is embedded in every piece that she created,” said Adrian Hume-Sayer, director of Private & Iconic Collections at Christie’s, in a statement.

In addition to rare pieces from the designer’s own wardrobe, a limited edition of the signed playing cards Westwood designed to support Greenpeace will be up for sale. Always concerned about using her name and influence to make a positive impact on some of the major issues faced by today’s humanity, she once said, “I want you to help me save the world, I can’t do it all on my own.”

Westwood’s Playing Cards for Climate Revolution set was originally conceived of in 2017; using strong graphics and powerful storytelling, the fashion designer created a set of playing cards depicting a culture-led economic strategy to save the world. Christie’s is now auctioning the first of a deluxe edition of ten associated portfolios presented in a unique linen-covered, hand-embroidered box, with a high estimate of £50,000 ($62,000).

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John Sauven, the former executive director of Greenpeace U.K. who was part of the creation of the cards, told Christies: “Vivienne was well-known as a rebel for most of her life but rarely without a cause. For Vivienne, activism was her life. She didn’t compartmentalize it. Fashion here, campaigning there. In fact, she always said everything is connected. Fashion. Art. Education. Activism. And she managed to fuse it all together in extraordinary ways. Vivienne has left us the playing cards, an important work of art, that enables her ideas to live on in all of us.”

Among the fashion highlights in the auctions are a navy blue serge two-piece ensemble comprising a square-shouldered boxy jacket and a pleated skirt with an extended cream waistband (1983) from her infamous Witches Fall-Winter collection (estimate: £4,000-6,000). The collection was first to be presented in the Cour Carrée du Louvre, the official ready-to-wear show space of Paris, and was the last on which she collaborated with Malcolm McLaren.

Witches, Autumn/Winter 1983/1984; two-piece ensemble of navy blue serge. Estimate £4,000-6000. Courtesy Christie’s

According to the auction catalog, the inspiration for the collection came first from the 1978 book Voodoo and Magic Practices, written by Jean Kerboull, a missionary priest in Haiti, and was then nourished by her encounter with Keith Haring in New York in late 1982, as well as the Hip Hop scene in the city. Westwood’s innovative use of geometric panels in the collection would become a blueprint for ‘no waste’ tailoring.

Even more revolutionary is a heavily printed cotton dress from her Fall/Winter 2005-2006 Propaganda Collection, dedicated to Gary Ness, one of the major intellectual influences on Westwood after Malcolm Mclaren from the time before she met Kronthaler. The designer remembered him in her memoirs thusly: “…he was a scholar and a heretic; he directed my reading. Introduced me to Chinese painting and the ballet. Petrushka doll turning en pointe to Stravinsky’s music. I was still a punk, but I thought I’m going to use that crini for a rainy day…The biggest influence on my life bar none, was Gary Ness. He worked for many years on a book, Who the Fuck Needs Art by Phyllis Stein, which was never completed.”

Propaganda Collection, Autumn/Winter 2005/2006; dress with blue and white striped blouse and printed propaganda modesty panel and apron. Estimate: £ 2,000-3,000. Courtesy Christie’s

Among the iconic staples Westwood reinvented completely, the corset-as-outwear was perhaps her most radical. “Westwood reimagined the garment to empower women rather than bind them. She introduced stretch panels on the side and zip fastenings instead of lacing at the back,” said Hume-Sayer.

Screenshot 2024 06 17 at 8.14.15 PM e1718738420721Screenshot 2024 06 17 at 8.14.15 PM e1718738420721
A corset bodice and blouse from the Voyage to Cythera collection, Autumn-Winter 1989/90; Pagan V collection, Spring-Summer 1990. Estimate: £1,500-2,500. Courtesy Christie’s

A pink flock velvet corset bodice and floral chiffon blouse from the 1989/1990 Voyage to Cythera collection will also appear in the auction with an estimate of £ 1,500-2,000. It was inspired by a 1717 painting of the same name by Jean-Antoine Watteau (also known as The Embarkation to Cythera) in the collection of the Louvre in Paris. “Old world culture and historical costuming reimagined for the modern woman and man,” as Ian Kelly wrote.

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Vivienne Westwood. © Immo Klink

A look back at Vivienne Westwood

Known as the “queen of punk,” Westwood, who passed away in 2022 at the age of 81, is recognized as one of the most important British fashion designers of all time and, by many, as the most iconic fashion designer of the last quarter of the 20th Century. Mixing exhibitionism with body confidence, her style pushed sartorial boundaries with a unique mix of punk aesthetic, new romanticism, baroque and more.

Born in Derbyshire in 1941, Westwood started her career as a primary school teacher before moving into the world of fashion. A defining moment was her chance meeting with Malcolm McLaren, then a 19-year-old art student and music impresario (he managed the Sex Pistols) who inspired the first part of her career. Together they opened a small shop in London called Let It Rock, where they sold 1950s memorabilia and Teddy Boy clothes. Shortly after, they became leading figures in the cultural revolution of the punk aesthetic.

In 1990 and 1991, Westwood was nominated the British Council’s Fashion Designer of the Year, in 2004, she enjoyed a major retrospective at the V&A in London and in 2006 was awarded a damehood for services to fashion. As The Vivienne Foundation commented: “Vivienne was a style icon throughout her lifetime. Her deep interest in intellectual and political ideas informed her natural skill in fashion design, where she became one of the very few true originators. There will simply never be another Vivienne Westwood

Vivienne Westwood’s Personal Collection Heads to Auction at Christie’s London

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