Spotlight on: Vivienne Westwood

Fashion doyenne and political activist Dame Vivienne Westwood released her long-awaited autobiography in late 2014.

Co-written with fashion journalist Ian Kelly, it is an epic read that covers Westwood’s evolution from shy primary school teacher to original founder of the London punk scene, her influence on world fashion and the rise of Vivienne Westwood the designer label.

Vivienne Westwood

Vivienne Westwood, today

At 400 pages, it’s no short read, but there’s lots of photos and hand-drawn illustrations to break it up. Westwood doesn’t directly author the book, instead she is frequently quoted to provide her version of events on her life’s course.

The origins of British punk fashion are covered in detail, including the moment Westwood met partner Malcolm McLaren and the story behind their infamous SEX clothing shop on King’s Road. While it was a turbulent period for their relationship, it was an intensely creative period for fashion. During these years of raising small children, running a business and making all clothes by herself, Westwood refined her fashion skills and slowly her aggressive punk designs morphed into high-end fashion. It is said her cutting skills reinvented the concept of traditional British tailoring and gave a lifeline to the British tweed industry from the 1980s onwards.

Vivienne Westwood

Vivienne Westwood being made a Dame at Buckingham Palace

Westwood is still heavily involved in her activism work for Greenpeace and her human rights organisation Liberty.The book criss-crosses the wide range of topics she has provided public comment on over the years – social upheavals, change of governments, the progression of the human rights movement. Those seeking gossip and scandal can lap it up from the chapters on the 1970s, the glam 1980s, the grungy 1990s and beyond. It also features contributions from many of Westwood’s friends, including the likes of Pamela Anderson, Naomi Campbell,  Prince Charles and Julian Assange.

Her marriage to Andreas Kronthaler, 25 years her junior, is also explored. A relationship that developed from a mutual admiration of one another’s fashion designs and a little bit of a ‘crush’ on one another, their 23-year marriage has gone from strength to strength and defines the Vivienne Westwood fashion label as it stands today.

If you persevere with this long book you will be left feeling inspired and totally in awe of this dynamic style maven, who at 74 continues to pump out a new collection for Paris Fashion Week each year.

Vivienne Westwood and Margaret Thatcher

Another famous friend….or foe? Westwood with former British PM Margaret Thatcher.

You can borrow this book from our library here

Spotlight on: Alexa Chung

Lots of ‘it’ girls are releasing memoirs these days. Although they tend to err more on the side of book-on-how-to-be-like-me, It-girl memoirs from the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow, Lena Dunham, Jessica Alba – even from a young Jackie Kennedy-Onassis – have been a publishing success for decades, appealing to young fashion-forward types interested in the zeitgeist.

British model, global fashion trendsetter and noughties ‘it’ girl Alexa Chung has got straight to the point, calling her recent memoir ‘IT’.

What exactly is an ‘it’ girl?. The Oxford Dictionary offers the following definition:

  1. a young woman who has achieved celebrity because of her socialite lifestyle.
IT by Alexa Chung

IT by Alexa Chung

The phrase is believed to have originated as slang in upper class British society around the turn of the 20th century. Rudyard Kipling is said to have been the first writer to use the phrase in his prose. In his 1904 short story, “Mrs. Bathurst,” he wrote: ‘Tisn’t beauty, so to speak, nor good talk necessarily. It’s just It. Some women’ll stay in a man’s memory once they walk down the street.’

Chung, whose exotic looks come from having a Chinese father and an English mother, takes the mickey much of the time, especially when providing advice for her wide-eyed fashionista audience. Makes you wonder whether this book deserves to be catalogued and placed in humour, rather than fashion.

Take her tips on how to get dressed in the morning:

1. In the shower/bath/over the sink (I don’t know what you like) take your time to imagine your day and how you’d like to look as you are doing all those boring tasks/potentially running into an ex or future partner/nemesis…

2. Is the outfit clean? – Is it though???

3. Put it on, and this is crucial… look in a mirror. 

Chung is down-to-earth. She admits ‘I probably first heard about Gucci via Posh Spice’ and ‘When I was thirteen I spent a lot of time pretending to like dance music because everyone at my school seemed to love it.’

She has no shame in telling the world at she borrowed heavily from the style of stars from the silver screen while trying to figure out her own personal style – FYI she copied Anna Karina, Liv Tyler, Jane Birkin and Edie Sedgwick, amongst others.

She is a creative and there’s lots of her own neat doodles throughout the book. There are many lists for inspiration, including ones of songs to get through a break-up, celebrities with ‘perfect hair’ to emulate and things to take to a music festival. It’s more of a zine than a book and encourages you to have a laugh.

‘IT’ is a book about Chung’s love of fashion, music, art, film and celebrity style. It’s a very popular book across the SA library network. You can put a hold request on it here

Spotlight on: Lena Dunham

‘Not That Kind of Girl’ is the title of actor and writer Lena Dunham’s new memoir, which has announced her as a fresh and vibrant literary voice.

Actress, writer and 'it' girl Lena Dunham and a copy of her new memoir 'Not that Kind of Girl:  a young woman tells you what she's "learned" '

Actress, writer and ‘it’ girl Lena Dunham and a copy of her new memoir ‘Not that Kind of Girl: a young woman tells you what she’s “learned” ‘

If you’ve ever seen her in the HBO series ‘Girls’, which she writes, directs and stars in as lead character Hannah Horvath, you may have wondered whether or not she is actually not acting but just being Lena Dunham. Both women reside in Brooklyn, talk incredibly fast with wit, smarts and brutal honesty and wish to establish themselves as writers and ‘voices of their generations’.

Even if Lena Dunham’s real life is the basis for Hannah Horvath and all of the other characters from Girls, she is a talented writer who is funny enough, smart enough and genuine enough to justify a memoir at 28 years of age.

Lena’s book is an easy and a fun read. It’s a collection of personal essays (and many hand-drawn illustrations), with each essay based on an episode from her life which she defines as ‘part of making one’s way into the world’. Her life experiences are varied and cover a lot of ground: falling in love; feeling alone; being ten pounds overweight despite only eating health food; thoughts on death and dying; the joy of wasting time and having to prove yourself in a room full of men twice your age.

Lena constantly refers to her mum and dad throughout her book, using their experience and back stories to shade and colour her anecdotes. Both her parents are established artists and there is no doubt their support and creative nurturing have helped Lena’s talents to flourish. Lena has devoted two chapters to her parents in her book:  ’15 Things I’ve Learned from My Mother’ and ’17 Things I Learned from My Father’.

Some gems from her Mother:

  • ‘It’s okay to ignore the dress code if you’re an “artist.” People will think you’re operating on a higher plane and feel suddenly self-conscious.’
  • ‘Why spend $200 once a week on therapy when you can spend $150 once a year on a psychic?’
  • ‘Keep your friends close. Buy your enemies something cool.’

And these from her father:

  • ‘There are no bad thoughts, only bad actions.’
  • ‘All children are amazing artists. It’s the grown-ups you have to worry about.’
  • ‘A rising tide lifts all boats. That being said, it’s horrible when people you hate get things you want.’

If you would like to read ‘Not that Kind of Girl’, or watch the TV series ‘Girls’, both items are available to borrow from the Tea Tree Gully Library. You can also place a hold on both items here