Westwood re-imagined

Two fashion students transform a Vivienne Westwood dress in honour of the 2024 Met Gala theme

It isn’t unusual for a certified fashion fan to become giddy with excitement at the thought of the first Monday in May. Whether it be the intoxicating glamour or the grand theatrics, many of us are eager to scour Instagram in the morning, to be delighted (or let down) with celebrity interpretations of the theme. 

Following this year’s controversial homage to Karl Lagerfeld it was announced that the theme for 2024 would be ‘Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion’. The theme aims to celebrate fashion history, showcasing pieces now too fragile to be worn using cutting edge curation and technology. While the elite fashion world gets busy researching, planning, sewing and fitting, textiles embroidery student Eva Tosh and I decided to create our own fashion fantasy and design a re-imagined version of an iconic look fit for those infamous steps. 

The first step in our process was to choose a designer. Of the many set to feature in the exhibit, including Charles Frederick Worth, Elsa Schiaparelli and Hubert de Givenchy, Eva and I chose renowned Mother of Punk, Vivienne Westwood, as our main inspiration. 

Eva explains: “I have looked up to her since I was very young. As a British fashion icon, it was being introduced to her works that made me want to go into fashion in the first place. She created so much more than clothes; an entire culture, one that is reflective of her time but is also timeless. She draws on many influences from throughout history and masterfully contrasts the non-conformist DIY aesthetic with the elegance of beguiled, 19th century dress.”

We began our research, meticulously searching through Westwood’s countless collections, with each reinventing her signature punk style. A theme consistent within Westwood’s collections was nauticality, and it seemed never more apparent than in her Spring/Summer98 collection, called Tied To The Mast. As Eva notes: “Some of the looks are grand and exaggerated but all of the looks have such varied fabrics that give them texture and life. The DIY aesthetic still comes through the fraying and mix-and-matched pieces and contrasts the setting and theme of elegance and extravagance.”

Characteristic corsets and big bold hairstyles are aplenty, but we found in amidst the fantastical ensembles, a dress with a textural density that caught both of our eyes. The voluminous, crinoline skirt shape is decorated with deadstock, tying in with the theme of re-awakening fashion, salt-stained and sun bleached to delicate pastel. Pirates-meet- Elizabeth I, was our first thought.

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A post shared by The Vivienne Westwood Archives (@thewestwoodarchives)

The next step was to create a moodboard, both for the look of the gown and the fabrics. Outside of the chosen dress, our inspirations were far-reaching. In an ode to the same historical era that inspired Westwood’s silhouette, we decided to model the design on Victorian fashion designer John Redfern’s 19th century walking suits. The headpiece was drawn from Westwood’s pirate bride from the same collection, flirting with windswept beauty, matrimony and maritime. 

For the sample, Eva chose denim cotton and satin as her main fabrics. She explains: “I was inspired by the original image because it looks like there’s lots of different textures. The blue bow in the dress looks like satin and the fabric underneath looks like denim so I want to incorporate them into the design. There is a variety of bold and pastel colours, which would be a great inspiration to take from the dress.” 

Bringing all of these individual pieces together, informed by fabrics and fashions, we designed our look. The overall silhouette was a walking suit, re-imagined with a similar corset to the original look. The layering of fabrics in the skirt gave a feathered effect, similar to a skirt from Westwood’s Autumn Winter95 collection. Finished with the modern classic pirate boots and an extravagant headpiece, our look is coloured with pastel blues, pinks and greens. 

Re-imagined Westwood dress, designed by Ellie Rogers and Eva Tosh

While neither of us are likely to attend the Met next year (invites are welcome if you’re reading, Anna), both Eva and I learnt a lot of appreciation for the intricacy of fashion history throughout the process. Westwood dedicated most of her life and career to creating a discussion around the harmful impacts of fashion on climate change. Her slogan, “Buy Less, Choose Well, Make it Last”, is echoed in this year’s theme, showing the importance of garment preservation for art and wear. If Eva and I were actually to make this look, the most significant lesson we could learn from Westwood is how to make and take care of garments responsibly and sustainably. 

As for the actual Met looks, we unfortunately still have over five months to wait. Hopefully, with a theme of such promise, we will be blessed with beautiful and thoughtful garments next year: re-awakening fashions past with acknowledgement to a sustainable fashion future. 

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