Jenni Murray: You’ve said ‘clothes were politics long before fashion’. What did you mean by that?
Vivienne Westwood: I have no idea.
Jenni Murray: Was it something you said to Ian (Kelly) and now you’ve forgotten?
Vivienne Westwood: No…is that what it says in the book?
Jenni Murray: Yes
Vivienne Westwood: Well then, he might have got a misquote from somewhere.
Woman’s Hour, BBC Radio 4, October 14, 2014
I respect Dame Vivienne Westwood’s achievements; she has been a significant figure in shaping our collective visual identity.
As someone who is driven to investigate and interpret visual culture, that is important to me. I dedicated a chapter and sections to Westwood’s contribution to fashion with and without Malcolm McLaren in the 2001 and 2006 editions of The Look: Adventures In Rock & Pop Fashion.
But she is ill-served by the sloppy new book Vivienne Westwood, recently published by Picador and written by actor/author Ian Kelly.
This is not just because it is riddled with shameful inaccuracies and poor attention to detail: “Jimmy” Hendrix, Mary “Shelly”, Pete “Townsend”, Scott “Crowley” (Crolla), Eric “Emmerson”, Jeremy “Healey” (Healy); “the first Paris show, the Buffaloes collection in 1981…we had done the Pirates, the Savages and this was the Buffalo collection” (Pirate was the first show in 1981); “McLaren was just 56 when he died” (he was 64); “on November 6 1976 Vivienne attended the first concert by the Sex Pistols” (performed precisely a year earlier); the Soho gay bar frequented by punks was “Louisa’s” (correct spelling: Louise’s); Quentin Crisp was living at NYC’s Chelsea Hotel when she and McLaren stayed there in August 1973 (Crisp first visited in 1978 and lived there from 1980); etc.
The book contains several outright claims without base. As we know, John Lydon has picked up on the notion floated that Westwood came up with the concept and the title of the Sex Pistols’ clarion call Anarchy In The UK, while there is a suggestion that she named The Who back in 1964, and even that her first husband managed that group. Sections of the book insinuate that such Sex and Seditionaries designs as Cowboys, Cambridge Rapist, Smoking Boy, Destroy, Cash From Chaos and You’re Gonna Wake Up were solely created by Westwood (I imagine The Clash manager Bernie Rhodes – who came up with YGWU but is not mentioned – will have something to say about that).
Then there is the fact that the book credits to the Vivienne Westwood Collection many images which belong to others, such as the exterior shots of 430 King’s Road taken by Bob Gruen (p137) and Sukita Matayoshi (p122), portraits of VW and others by Alain Dister (p167), David Dagley/Rex Features (p159) and David Parkinson (pp115, 142); the architectural sketch for Worlds End by David Connor (p238); the Worlds End catwalk photography by Robyn Beeche (pp37, 254); etc.
Meantime, as reported in British fortnightly Private Eye, the book presents a serious libel by maligning a former employee of Westwood’s on the basis that he is dead. Apparently he is not, and nor is the married individual asserted to have been his boyfriend.
My objection, and one which I am pursuing, is that the author helped himself freely to content from The Look, which is on reading lists for University Of The Arts London fashion courses (I am currently preparing the third edition).
In a couple of instances, astonishingly, words written and spoken by McLaren for that book are attributed in direct and indirect quotes to Westwood. There are eight passages alone from McLaren’s introduction to The Look.
These and many other excerpts – close to 40 I warrant – bear too close a resemblance to text in The Look to let pass.
My book is credited with 10 references in the chapter ‘Notes’ section at the back of the book. Of these:
• 2 are not my work and not in The Look;
• 6 are given the wrong page numbers in The Look – if the reader were to look them up they would arrive at entirely different subject matters or, in a couple of cases, full-page illustrations of fashion businesses which have nothing to do with Westwood;
• 1 (the quote on p85 at the top of this post) is negated by the attribution to Westwood in the text. The impression given that these are words uttered by Westwood to Kelly – as opposed to the truth of the matter, which is that McLaren uttered them to me in the bar of the London School Of Economics in the autumn of 1999 (I have the notes in my archive) - is reinforced by the fact that it, along with all the other passages based on my material, is voiced in Westwood’s accent by actress Paula Wilcox in the audiobook published in the UK and US.
It is troubling that this leaves just 1 correct attribution out of the 10 which name me and the other 29 which do not. Yet even this sole example is problematic: confusingly, this note references the second edition of The Look – the substantially different first edition is cited in the Vivienne Westwood bibliography.
I am also named among those whose work has been helpful to Kelly. No kidding. Such acknowledgment I am advised does not justify the substantial (and the legal definition relies on qualitative rather than quantitative factors) borrowing.
As Private Eye reports, I’m not pleased. Nobody likes to have the product of their skill and labour appropriated, apparently quite casually. Another reason is professional. Like the kid with the pin and the inflatable cricket team, Kelly has let the side down.
I have published memoirs with such outspoken characters as Boy George and Goldie. They, and Westwood, are entitled to say what they want, particularly during the process of building books; it is the author’s job to protect them by steering and refining the material all the while ensuring the story remains a) well-told and b) free from potential claims of libel, plagiarisation, etc.
In not doing so, this author has seriously undermined the verity of the entire enterprise.
Of course, the publisher takes the primary role in all this, and I would hope that Picador – part of the worldwide Macmillan Group – asks of itself the relevant questions about how, to use one media lawyer’s professional opinion of the Westwood book, such “a dog’s breakfast” has been allowed to hit the shelves.
Whatever, the fact is that this opportunity to present a cracking tale of a fascinating individual (as delivered in Jane Mulvagh’s 1999 Westwood biography An Unfashionable Life) has been scuppered by several factors, including an over-reliance on “misquotes from somewhere”.