Happy birthday to Vivienne Westwood, born on this day in 1941! We wish her the best and look forward to many more of her inventive designs. Though Westwood's early career, which began in the early 1970s, was closely associated with punk, by the 1980s she had turned to the past for her primary inspiration. Never one for straight-forward interpretation of historic fashion, Westwood's work reinterprets aspects of history, making them relevant to the contemporary moment.
Vivienne Westwood mines museum collections for inspiration, deconstructing historical themes to generate modern designs. Like its eighteenth-century ancestor, this corset features internal boning, wide shoulder strops, and a "stomacher" at center front. However, while Ancien Régime corsets were rigid, tightly laced constructions of linen boned with baleen or reeds—the most luxurious examples covered in silk brocade—Westwood's version is made of synthetic stretch lame, flexible plastic boning, and fastens with a zipper. Nevertheless, it creates the same swelling bosom popular 250 years ago. Instead of covering the front of the corset with an historically correct, ribbon-trimmed triangular panel, a silkscreened copy of the 1743 painting Daphnis et Chloé by François Boucher (1703-1770) reinforces the Louis XV theme.
The flamboyant wool twill hot pants paired with this corset also contain ironic historical allusions, though they reference a different time period and gender. Elizabethan men wore full-bottomed breeches with form-fitting doublets that were as stiff as corsets. The baggy cut of their breeches facilitated horseback riding and showed off a great deal of expensive material. This tasseled and faux-fur-trimmed female version of sixteenth-century male garb demonstrates Westwood's time-and-gender bending approach to contemporary design at its best.