From punk-rock fashion to political activism, Vivienne Westwood has been an icon of British culture for over 40 years. As her husband and design partner Andreas Kronthaler steps into the spotlight, we speak to the Austrian designer about his inspirations, the creative process behind the Vivienne Westwood brand and what it means to be part of fashion’s coolest power couple
In the fickle world of fashion, where today’s big name is tomorrow’s old news, Vivienne Westwood is a rarity. Having burst on to the scene in 1971, and defined the look of the punk era alongside her then partner Malcolm McLaren, Westwood has remained at the cutting edge of fashion and culture for well over four decades. Her eponymous brand is one of the biggest fashion labels in the world and the designer herself is acknowledged as one of the most influential creatives – and activists – in the world today.
'People ask how a couple who live together and work together manage it. We’re both very tolerant and it is stimulating: a learning process' - Andreas Kronthaler
In 1988, Westwood began teaching at the Vienna School of Applied Arts. It was there that she met Andreas Kronthaler, who was studying fashion design. Kronthaler’s original designs caught Westwood’s eye, and she invited him to London to develop them further. His ‘sun wheel’ dresses, inspired by the Renaissance, were featured in the Vivienne Westwood collection in 1989. So began a partnership that has become central to the brand. The pair married in 1993, and today they remain partners in both business and life.
Together Westwood and Kronthaler have taken the brand from strength to strength. For Kronthaler, it’s all about balance, and mutual respect: ‘Vivienne is an individual with a revolutionary vision and her image and work are strongly recognisable. She’s a punk and a scholar. This was established when I met her. I too have a vision and we pooled our resources, intellectually as well as physically. People ask how a couple who live together and work together manage it. We’re both very tolerant and it is stimulating: a learning process.’
For autumn/winter 2016/17 the brand’s Gold Label line – shown each season at Paris Fashion Week – was renamed Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood. This was partly motivated by a desire to recognise the brand as a joint effort. ‘Over the years Andreas has taken on ever more responsibility and I wish this fact to be reflected in public perception,’ explained Westwood at the time.
But it was also an acknowledgement of the two as individuals. ‘I have designed with Vivienne for more than 25 years,’ he explains. ‘We wanted to clarify our lines. Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood: that’s just me. The collection is more couture.’
Both designers are involved on some level with every aspect of the brand, but the separation allows their differences to flourish. ‘We always work quite separately and come back together – we work very differently from each other,’ says Kronthaler of the design process. ‘I constantly try things out and keep changing things; I’m never satisfied and drive Vivienne mad. She is different: she approaches something and makes a decision then builds on it – she’s very literal and logical. I tend to throw things up and create chaos before I can have order.’
For autumn/winter 2017/18, Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood is inspired by the designer’s home nation. ‘The realisation at the end was that I see myself as an Austrian designer,’ says Kronthaler of the collection. ‘It was about acknowledging my nationality and giving shape to my identity. The landscapes, the people, their costumes: they are my roots. It took me a while to understand the importance of where I was from.’
Designed as a tribute to the Wiener Werkstätte – a community of artists in Vienna in the early 1900s – the collection shows distinct Austrian influences, such as alpine florals and dirndl-inspired silhouettes. But Kronthaler’s artistic Austrian inspirations – Gustav Klimt among them – also led to bold paint splatters, vibrant prints and a cacophony of rich colours, all of which immediately conveyed the signature Vivienne Westwood exuberance.
For the Vivienne Westwood mainline collection this season, the eponymous designer once again used her catwalk event and the designs it showcased as a platform, telling a story of eco warriors fighting climate change through her staging. Westwood is a noted activist, and her company is committed to going green – many of the materials she uses are recycled, or use environmentally friendly dyeing and manufacturing processes. Garments are cut in a way that creates as little waste as possible. ‘Buy less, choose well, make it last,’ is a key motto.
Westwood’s true talent lies in seamlessly incorporating such political statements into her collections. She sees art and fashion as an important platform for ideas, but the serious issues have never taken away from her wild and vibrant vision. Her anti climate change mission statement was artfully splashed across trousers and tops in this unisex collection, while elsewhere she favoured bold prints (both abstract and photographic), patchwork appliqué, plaids and a healthy dose of gold lamé. A standout look featured a red tailored dress with matching jacket, which Westwood paired with knee-high red boots, a red cape and a knitted balaclava. Her catwalk styling makes a bold statement, but individually her pieces are undeniably wearable.
These are two very different collections with very different inspirations, and yet put a look from each side by side and the common aesthetic is immediately visible. The Vivienne Westwood style remains one of the strongest signatures in the world of fashion. ‘We have evolved together,’ explains Kronthaler. We can only wait and see where that evolution takes them next.