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Vivienne Westwood’s Music for Chameleons

PARIS, March 1, 2005 - On Saturday in the weekend that divided Milan from Paris, flocks of models descended on the tiny Rue de Mail for a casting call at Vivienne Westwood's local offices. As the world's most beautiful women stood in a drafty hallway shivering, look book in hand, you had the impression that most of them were probably wondering whether they would get their five minutes of fame on the catwalk. Of course, the odds were stacked against them, because no matter how talented or genetically perfect you may be, the fashion world is a fickle place that can turn on you in a heartbeat.

But by the time the lights came up at the Vivienne Westwood show on Tuesday morning, all of that uncertainty got swept away by the élan of the moment, because fashion people are attracted to sparkle, power and glamour, just like chameleons to Mozart.

When you talk about fashion, you can talk about clothes, or you can talk about art, and in the case of Viv, art will do - each piece that hit the lacquered ebony runway was intricately wrapped and layered, swirled in a tapestry of textures and colors that oscillated like those magical lizards, referencing, perhaps, her closest spiritual ally, Christian Lacroix. Both designers draw inspiration from London of the 70s, a period in time when dissent was à la mode, and when the conception of love was somewhat freer - that counter-cultural whiff brings so much hard core statement to their clothes. Whether in pleated skirts falling over leotards, or in appendages fluttered from skirts, there was a contemporary verve to everything. It was a reworking of a baroque ideal, and that pairing of contrasting elements was even reflected in the soundtrack that morphed from rock, to "Chansons d'amour", to 18th century counterpoint and back again. Add in models sporting two dissimilar boots, and the sonic effect begins to build. By the time a dress of wispy snow-white tulle or a folded chiffon mocha-colored gown floated down the catwalk, the tonal spectrum was complete.

Viv, who was drinking mineral water from a plastic cup backstage, said of her own triumphant turn in the spotlight, "the music gets me going".

But Westwood's fusion of ideas comes from a variety of sources, from the sublime to the profane, and her program notes were full of propaganda cutouts, replete with slogans unprintable here. Also in the brochure, you would find a petition to free Leonard Peltier, a Native American, who according to notes, is falsely imprisoned though the FBI under the Freedom of Information Act has released exonerating evidence. And then, you could turn to the last page, where Viv's own thoughts on her hardcore diamond collection were printed: "We all want diamonds: a hard core power of light--I wanted things that are human, very close and understood, hearts and piercing arrows - all's fair in love and war."



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