The history of fashion is rife with uniform-inspired garments or camouflage prints as military themes always provided interesting ideas and tailored solutions to designers. Yet there are different ways to look at such inspirations: Dame Vivienne Westwood moved for example from the theme of war in her A/W 18 collection to appeal for global peace.
Rather than doing a proper runway show, she launched the collection during London Fashion Week Men's (that kicked off last Friday) via a two-minute and 45-second film (also posted on social media) entitled "Don't Get Killed".
Westwood highlighted in a press release that she is a fashion designer and activist: we have indeed seen her using her role as rebel designer, collections and runways to raise awareness about climate change and pollution or make her views known about the Scottish Independence Referendum, Brexit and Theresa May.
This collection started with an idea for a set of cards: having developed T-shirts, pamphlets and posters throughout the years, Westwood found herself with enough graphics to create playing cards that she started releasing on social media and on the site climaterevolution.co.uk in the weeks before the collection was launched.
Westwood has so far put together almost all the Clubs and has used them as metaphors for violence and war. The latter also became the main theme at the core of this collection.
There's a catch there, though: she printed the cards on fabric and turned them into prayer flags, symbols that can hopefully bring peace.
The collection features therefore pieces inspired by war, but with a peace twist about them. One of the core garments is the Princess coat: inspired by the travelling coats of yore, it buttons on the masculine side, but it's conceived by the designer as "unisex, therefore economical and encourages to swap clothes". This concept seems to go well with a slogan that the designer turned into her mantra in recent years - "Buy Less, Choose Well, Make it Last".
Camouflage green runs through the collection: it appears for example in a Melton (felted fabric) coat and as a print for suits, shirts and dresses.
As a variation Westwood included another shade, Mountbatten Pink: introduced by Lord Mountbatten in World War II, this shade resembling greyish mauve was supposed to camouflage warships on the sun-touched horizon. This shade was also employed for knitwear and for tailored designs. Folk stripes also characterise the collection, hinting at peasant revolutions from the four corners of the world.
The fabrics - tartan tweed, undyed wool, Melton felt with raw edges and hemp - pointed at militaresque attire, but there was also a touch of workwear in wide-leg denim trousers and in the thick olive green aviation overalls in the style of Thayaht.
The themes tackled in the collection became more alive in the lookbook with models sitting on army bunk beds, climbing sand sacks, provocatively waving the EU flag or donning Brexit pumps (a mismatched Union Jack/EU flag pair of shoes; please, send them to Theresa May), wrapping themselves in the Westwood tarots or accessorising their looks with large necklaces with oversized teddy bears (a hint at a beloved toy from childhood or at A. A. Milne who was traumatised by fighting in the Battle of the Somme and hoped to publish a treatise against war when he returned to the UK, but eventually produced the Winnie-the-Pooh books?).
The diverse street-cast of Westwood army recruits played around with gender roles, bringing a unique energy into the collection and perfectly managing to convey the designer's message of opting for a unisex styling and sharing clothes.
As a whole the main theme of the collection is asbolutely pertinent, especially considering the fact that, at the very beginning of January, US President Donald Trump tweeted in response to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's speech warning that the U.S. is within the range of their nuclear strike and a nuclear button is always on the desk of his office, that he too has a nuclear button, "a much bigger & more powerful one than his".
Besides, fashion-wise the collection scores high on wearability with versatile pieces that can be easily mixed, matched and combined.
At the same time there are points that make you think in this collection: there are indeed no terribly innovative pieces here, but reinvented ideas, among them a navy Melton jacket decorated with white lace borrowed and reinvented from the iconic pirate collection; Westwood's trademark stripes reappear as usual on asymmetrical designs, together with some of her beloved regimental details, such as frogging and braiding.
Such pieces make you wonder if it is terribly necessary for fashion to go on when many designers are just remixing the past and their archives. Maybe that's what Westwood meant with her "Don't get killed" mantra - stay safe. In a way you wished she had pushed things a bit further: who knows, the ghost of Wilfred Owen may have lent further inspirations and more rage to fuel this modern and fashionable anti-war movement and would have also taken the collection to a more rebellious and experimental level.