Westwood and models celebrate after her runway show this week in Shanghai (Photo by Photo by Gong Si for Shanghai Daily)
In Shanghai earlier this week to kick off Shanghai S/S 2012 Fashion Week, British fashion icon Vivienne Westwood upheld her reputation for being notoriously outspoken yet inscrutable. Despite her brand's expansion in China, where the company has opened three stores this year, including a brand-new flagship in Shanghai, Westwood's mixed messages on China and the Chinese retail market have caused us a considerable amount of confusion.
[At Shanghai Fashion Week,] the somewhat curmudgeonly designer told WWD, "
I actually don't know that much [about China]... I have never really taken that much interest
She added, "Normally, I would have taken a holiday. I would have gone to Beijing, which I have never been to because I might never come again, and if I am coming all this way, I would like to know something about the country."
While designer apathy towards the China market is far from unheard of -- as APC founder and owner Jean Touitou said earlier this year, "“I know people are crazy for China, but I’m not at all" -- Westwood's ostensibly aloof attitude seems either disingenuous or misread in the wake of another article on Fashion Week by Shanghai Daily. In an interview with reporter Yang Di, Westwood comes across as a budding Sinophile, talking excitedly about her new collection and waxing enthusiastic about Chinese culture and history over glasses of champagne. From Shanghai Daily:
[Westwood's Shanghai runway] show exhibited influences from around the world and China was an important inspiration. Westwood incorporated Chinese calligraphy characters for her own name in a print taken from Chinese flower painting.
For the past 20 years, Westwood has been an ardent admirer of traditional Chinese ink-wash painting
and has given it a great deal of thought. By contrast, in a lot of modern art today there isn't much skill, she said.
"I think Chinese civilization is the high point of human achievement in the last 4,000 years. To me, there was nothing more wonderful than Chinese painting," she said. "There is no progress in art. Great arts are timeless. The Chinese painting is absolutely perfect and you can't progress from something that is perfect."
She spoke philosophically and said she has reflected on Chinese painting. "How did someone ever do that? It was a miracle to me," she said. "It's a view of the world, a representation of life. There is nothing more futuristic than Chinese painting."
There's not much use in reading too much into these articles, as their incongruities could be a case of Westwood simply playing to her audiences, poor translation (in Shanghai Daily's case) or lazy journalism. But as a designer whose brand is making serious inroads in a receptive China market, it's curious that Vivienne Westwood would come across as so glib in a Western publication while gushing about China and Chinese art while in Shanghai. Which is it?