Student life / Women in Media

WOW FESTIVAL: Vivienne Westwood in conversation with Shami Chakrabarti

Writing about this topic has been real hard. I kept typing and deleting for days, I felt my words weren’t enough to explain how I felt when I actually saw Vivienne. I tried to sound professional and quite plain, only reporting the interview’s content. But that wasn’t just an interview, last Sunday I experienced what it means to stand in front of a living legend and being inspired.

I don’t want to go into too many details about what she said: the video of her talk is right here. I think it would be better to show her through my eyes instead.

There’s a Vivienne Westwood shop in Milan, my birth city. I remember when, a couple of years ago, I went there with a dear friend of mine. I remember how we felt: it was like entering a temple. Everything was just so provocative and colorful and different. Some details of the clothes we touched were unbelievable. I remember talking about her and being so excited about her work.

vivienne_westwood_wow_festivalLast week I had the privilege to see her. I couldn’t wait for it. To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect – I was surprised not to see her red hair but a short white haircut instead. I didn’t know few days before she cut her hair to raise attention about climate change – but I found it out after, when, back at home, I made some research about her.

During the one which seemed the shortest hour ever, she spoke about her life, her ideals, her career. I was just there, with bated breath listening to what she had to say and careful not to lose even one word. She spread so much wisdom, I was impressed.

She is extremely kind and polite. I found her very spontaneous – not afraid to say, for example, she lost her stream of thoughts because she got distracted by someone from the audience looking at her. She has a unique charisma, usually really hard to find in people. The Front Room at Queen Elizabeth Hall was packed, but her voice was the only one you could hear.

While talking about how Vivienne Westwood the fashion designer came to life, she explained that for her fashion is nothing but “an excuse to talk politics”. She puts slogans in her collections to give political messages. To her, clothing is an important part of self-expression, reason why it’s a powerful mean of communication. When younger, she put her anger in her clothes: the world is purposely mismanaged, she argues, and we need to do something about it.

The most inspiring concept she spread is about culture. At one point she said “You get out what you put in”. She argues a young person cannot be a good fashion designer unless they have deep interests. She suggests to read, to look for wonderful arts, to go to museums, to fill ourselves up with culture, to engage with past. I found it very inspiring.

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(The photos in the sliding gallery belong to Ingelin Marie Myren Westrum)

There’s this wrong concept, I guess, that fashion industry is made by plain people who look at things’ surface and don’t have interests outside the fashion industry itself. Listening to a woman like Vivienne made me feel so full and so proud to be a woman and to believe in fashion.

Vivienne is not just a designer, though. As she always says, fashion is just an excuse to spread a message. She’s deeply involved in the Climate Change issue. She’s an activist who cares about our planet and makes sure to use her power to let people know what’s going on. She is passionate and well-educated. And, despite her age, you can still see in her eyes the sparkle typical of young people. She knows her voice is listened by millions of people; she makes sure to get the right impact of crowds’s consciousness. So she speaks about climate change, about how in 10 years time it will be too late to save the world, on how there is a Bank Corporation (147 privately owned banks) that runs the world. She talks about human rights, about how people slowly accept the most terrible conditions; about how Governments pass lows against public opinion. She says that Liberty has got to be fought for. That media are at Governments’ service; therefore it uses propaganda to spread wrong or not fully true messages.

When people from the audience had the chance to ask some questions, a lady stood up to ask “Are you considering the idea of becoming Prime Minister?” Her answer got me very deeply. She said the politicians abandon their principles when they get a job of power, so no, she doesn’t consider the idea to become a politician.

A baby girl asked what kids can do to help with climate change. She says that children can do exactly what adults do: get alive, make the best of their lives, pick one issue and get involved. Go on demonstration, recycle, and donate money. Children are not there to be only protected; they need to get experience in the world.vivienne_westwood

Time flies to fast when you enjoy yourself and it’s time for Vivienne to leave; and she comes towards the corner where I stand – yes, I was late and the room was completely full when I got there.

She looks at me and says “I can give only one signature. Do you want one?” I am not a signature type of person, but I say “Yes”. You can’t imagine how I felt in that exact moment.

When I think about role models, Vivienne fits in the category. She is strong, charismatic and powerful; she has been named Dame from the Queen; she is a successful fashion designer and business woman – but she is still humble and kind and patient.

What can I say after that? I just consider myself very lucky. This chance University gave to me made me meet a lot of interesting and inspiring characters.

I have no doubts: experiences like this will be remembered.


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