What Vivienne Westwood wants you to know

by | Mar 16, 2018 | Strategy

And what she told me. It’s been a while since, and I’ve really been meaning to tell you, but life got in the way. (It’s actually been giving me pains in the gut, as I rewrote the to do list on fresh new notepads. Not that it’s been that long ago, I met her in September ’16, but I’m a note taking queen, hence the rewrites).

Today I get to tick that off as done, and celebration is on the way. Before, though, let me tell you what she said to me. Obviously, not just to me. The setting was The Kenwood House Garden’s perfectly manicured lawns. The event was The FTWeekend Live Festival, pretty much a Ph.D. dissertation into how to spend your money. (They even had one of the seven lineups of speakers titled just that: “How to spend it”).

The rest was a collection of newsy delicacies for the sophisticated FT reader. Solid stuff, if you ask me. (Although I would not go for the “How to avoid banker style” talk. I am in no danger of that. I did go to “How to identify a lost masterpiece” and learned a fabulous art detective real story, although I am not their buyer avatar. And I didn’t go to “How to plan a disgracefully decadent retirement” either. It cannibalised with “An Audience with Vivienne Westwood”, and you see, I had come all the way to London for that. (My friend of then 20 years and good ideas fairy had invited me so how could I resist. She’s the one with the delicate smile and navy striped tee.)

And so we went to the tent where the fashion dame was to hold court, expecting good fashion thoughts. In exchange, she served an assortment of insights on climate change, rotten financial systems, and praise and calls to arms for all intellectuals. And then, at the end, when I eventually managed to go to her and ask a question, she cast her spell.

She touched briefly on her religious upbringing and lightly exemplified the (playful and brilliant) intellectual game behind some of her most iconic fashion, only to get to the how tos. She encourages friends to hold little intellectual activist cells in their universities, an homage to the “little hermits with their poems.” She calls for an Intellectuals of the World award. She calls for NGOs to challenge the government and for Greenpeace to unite with Oxfam. She wants you to think.

In fact, at the beginning of the talk, I’d gotten a flyer calling most of the planet uninhabitable land as soon as the rising temperature went beyond the tipping point. On the back, it carried a succinct explanation on The Rotten Financial System, detailing how central banks control the economy by creating and owning debt. How politicians serve the central banks and the monopolies. And that she preached from the bankers’ lair. Vivienne Westwood is one gutsy lady indeed.

Did I mention she doesn’t read the news? She reportedly only goes for The Week, but not much is interesting, she said to an amused crowd. Somebody does give her reports on social media.

Does she have advice for your designers? “A lot of people are in fashion that shouldn’t,” she said unperturbed. And no, she’s not looking for people good with online statistics. She’s looking for taste and judgement. She wants you to “go to art galleries, and read, and teach yourself because the schools won’t. You need the talent. And then you make something that gives people a real choice, not and addiction. Make something that is worth making. That’s sustainability. A dress is hundreds, if not thousands of decisions.”

She went on to describe one of her unique abilities: cut with industrial methods. Unlike others, she will not drape dresses on mannequins with pins. The result will be something that shows you have “taste and culture and might be someone interesting to talk to.” And powerful. “The woman looks powerful,” she added.

“NGOs have to change their behaviour now. Join something!” she concluded, before stepping into a crowd of beaming fans (of which I was one), eager to ask questions. Here’s the thing. As I watched her I had a million insights and ideas of what to ask. As I got close to her, I realised they had all betrayed me. So when I got my turn, I mumbled something about how great it was to hear her lay out her creative sources of inspiration and her reasoning. I was getting back to the question on advice for those starting out, etc.

And then she looked at me and said: “I want someone who understands what I’m doing.” Praise is good, but not quite. Understanding who they are and how the logic flows, ah, that’s, oh, so rare and precious. And then I realised that’s exactly what I will do for my clients. I will pull the sense like needles out of thought haystacks and lay it out nicely in crisp sentences for them and the world to get and enjoy.

PS. I found the pics on the FTWeekend website. I would credit a photographer if only I had a name. Not the last one, that’s by a Vivienne Westwood groupie. We look after each other.

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