Fiona McCade: Vivienne Westwood advice a bit rich

Vivienne Westwood at London Fashion Week. Picture: PA
Vivienne Westwood at London Fashion Week. Picture: PA
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Ripped jeans have always made me smile. Not because I like them, but because when you think about them, they are pretty hilarious.

Usually, ripped jeans are more expensive than intact jeans. Perhaps it is because it costs more to slightly destroy them. This process is called “distressing”, but the most distressing thing is how much it adds to the price. Once the jeans have been shredded just enough to look like a tramp would wear them, they are then bought by people who have cash, but who want to look poor.

I keep on hoping that, one day, I’ll see someone wearing ripped jeans with the sort of ironic air that such a fashion statement demands. Someone who will smile back at me, because they get the joke. But it has not happened yet.

On Monday, Dame Vivienne Westwood showed her latest collection at London Fashion Week. After the event was over, the woman who once said “my aim is to make the poor look rich and the rich look poor” took the opportunity to do something rather strange for someone who makes a living from selling clothes: she urged us all to stop buying so many.

Her message was clear: “Buy less. Choose well. Make it last. Quality, not quantity. Everybody’s buying far too many clothes … instead of buying six things, buy one thing that you really like. Don’t keep buying just for the sake of it.”

Wise words, Dame Viv. I’m on board. But then she said something even more unexpected: “And I think that poor people should be even more careful.”

Aw. You have got to feel sorry for the poor. They can’t afford much, but at every turn, they are being told to take less. The poor should stop smoking, the poor should stop eating so many fatty foods, the poor should buy fewer wide screen televisions. Now they are not even allowed to buy new clothes without millionaire fashion designers wagging chastising fingers at them.

Dame Vivienne might have ended up sounding a bit like Marie Antoinette, but I think I know what she means. If I understand correctly, she is saying that if you have not got so much money to throw around, you need to take more care over exactly what you purchase – and she is absolutely right.

I’m sure that if I bought just a few really good quality, organic, Egyptian combed cotton T-shirts (instead of grabbing anything that costs £3 or less), they would last for years, rather than becoming dusters after one summer. In the long run, I would save money and possibly even the planet, and it’s the planet that Westwood is most worried about.

“I just think people should invest in the world. Don’t invest in fashion, but invest in the world,” she added and if she had only said that first, before reminding the poor that they can’t afford much of what she produces, she would have done herself a huge favour.

The fact is that her message is a true and important one, so long as it is directed at all of us. It is not the responsibility of the poor to start sorting out the world, although everyone can do their bit. I just wish she had started off by chiding the rich, since they are the biggest consumers and, therefore, the biggest wasters. But you can see how that might not have gone down so well with her conspicuously prosperous clientele.

There has always been a huge and blindingly obvious difference between the rich dressing “poor” (see any £200 pair of distressed designer jeans) and the poor dressing “rich” (see Aintree). If we all ignored fashion and simply bought attractive, well-made clothes, the world would become a much saner place. Unfortunately for the future of Planet Earth, I don’t think the human race is quite ready for such a concept.

We get the idea, but the moment you realise you can afford 11 Florence and Fred T-shirts for the price of one of the cheapest Westwood’s, even the firmest principles start feeling a bit flabby.

OK, Dame Vivienne, I agree with you, but I’d like to see you walk your talk. How about this: for your next collection, you design only one thing. One thing that you really, really like. And I promise not to buy it. Do we have a deal?