I assume that in most people’s lives, there are a few precious others from whom you have learned a lot and who have shaped you, quite directly or in confrontation or both. For me, my professor Vivienne Westwood, in whose fashion class at Universität der Künste Berlin I studied for four years, was one of those people without whom I would not be who I am today, and to whom I am infinitely grateful for everything I learned from her (and often, against her).
For me, Vivienne was not an idol, but a heroine in some way, definitely an inspiration, and at the same time my most terrible and – by far! – greatest teacher. I always wondered what she might actually have seen in me in me back then, on the very first day, when she decided to accept me into her small class! It was an honour and a privilege.
My relationship with Vivienne was by no means easy. I’m not good at simply following orders, and it semed like Vivienne wasn’t used to someone insisting on making her own mistakes in order not only to learn from them, but also to see the wonderful things that sometimes come out of those very mistakes. At some point though, she started to respect my way of working, just let me do it my way and even encouraged that, which was the greatest gift.
In one way or another, Vivienne teached me how to see (or better, to always take a closer look at things), to stay curious and to keep learning, to tell entire stories with tiny details, the self-discipline of a ballet dancer, pattern construction (although I always wanted to draw, the technical side of making clothes soon became more exciting…), that historical apparel can feel like true time travel, that I often find solving problems much more exciting and satisfying than “just putting a bow on it”, to appreciate and use the treasure chest of historical patterns, paintings and books as an inspiration, and possibly even my strange tendency to (re)invent things, or at least she encouraged that! Without Vivienne, I likely would be much less decidedly me today, and possibly I wouldn’t be quite as kind :)
Even though I mostly work in other fields today (which is connected to the above), all that and much more is still there.
Probably the most influential thing was Vivienne forcing me to put on my own designs (until then, I only worked on dummies and models, because I didn’t expect to fit in), and how this taught me to first look at how you feel in clothes and only later at how you look in them, and there’s so much more beauty in confidence and knowing oneself than in perfection. As an illustrator, I actually still work in somewhat similar ways, and constantly feel into all the details.
I like the idea that all the things Vivienne ever teached us will live on in so many of the lives she touched.
When asked about an old friend, Vivienne once said that you don’t have to be in contact with someone to deeply appreciate the fact that this person exists, and that a world without that person would be like a world without Brazil.
Yesterday, my own little world has lost one of its precious few Brazils.
About the picture: Unfortunately, I can’t access my old photos right now and it would feel odd to just use a random picture of Vivienne found online. While working on my diploma collection based on historical women’s hunting clothes, I came across the custom of using fir branches as a sign of honor, and I remember that Vivienne really liked this detail.