Biographer Ian Kelly Tells About His Time Spent with the Iconic Designer

When prize-winning biographer, Ian Kelly, was approached by the Vivienne Westwood group to write an account of the influential fashion designer’s life and work, he was already aware of his admiration for her work. What he was yet to find out, through hours spent talking with her, meeting her friends and family, and accompanying her to Paris Fashion week, was how much he would admire her as a person. Ian talked us through what it was like to write the biography of a living legend.

On arranging and scheduling…
It was difficult to timetable: she is very, very busy. Mainly we would sit at her cutting table in the penthouse studio of her company in Battersea and talk for hours with a tape recorder running, until it got too dark. I also went to Paris for fashion week, which is the opening of the book.

On what you might not know about Vivienne…
Mainly I’d have to say I was unaware of her warmth and wit: I had known and observed her dedication to her causes (protest about climate change, human rights causes) and her passion for fine tailoring. But I had not known that she was as loved and supported as she clearly is, by a wonderful coterie of friends and family who have also contributed greatly to the book (i.e. models Jerry Hall and Lily Cole, also Pamela Anderson and even Prince Charles).

On learning more about the fashion world

Regarding fashion, well, I had no idea beforehand how Paris Fashion Week operates, and how vital these creative industries are now in defining the economies of Europe and beyond. So yes, it was an education.

On the process…
Its been about two years: a year plus of researching and discovering the world around Vivienne. Then a year or more of writing and re-writing with Vivienne at her Clapham home. I had only written before from archival evidence, so its been wonderful to have the live source there in front of me saying ‘actually it wasn’t quite like that if you were there: this is how it was.’

On the scope of her impact…

Vivienne’s story is about the recent history of Britain, the world of fashion and activism and punk, but it is also a cry from the heart about the importance of art. I hope punks old and young will read it, but also anyone interested in what a wise woman has to say about her life, her world and her adventures. Unexpectedly, perhaps, Vivienne can be very funny.

Vivienne Westwood by Vivienne Westwood & Ian Kelly is out from Today on Picador.

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