Oh hey, so, Vivienne Westwood Rides a Bike

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“Hey, Viv!” She’s read the gospel (she wrote it), and she knows that cycling in heels is The Only Way.  

Grande dame Vivienne Westwood (DBE) in her own designs, photographed by Alasdair McLellan for The Gentlewoman, Issue no. 9, Spring and Summer 2014.

They say you should never meet your heroes.

Impossibly mammoth expectations, coupled with the inevitable bumbling awkwardness of it all converge into a monster that will forever haunt you, an experience you’ll relive time and again both in your own head and aloud with others.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, David Bowie encounters, and general declarations of Bowie-hero-love seem, to this writer at least, cited more often in the press than any other.  Marilyn Manson once said something along the lines of meeting Mr. Stardust, a personal hero, “He complemented my suit, and I felt like a little schoolboy.” There was artist Dawn Kasper’s brush-with-Bowie experience (read ’til pg. 3) at the 2012 Whitney Biennial.  And painter Elizabeth Peyton spoke of Bowie and his accompanying 2013 V&A retrospective, “…I thought the tone of the show echoed how we all feel about him – total love and gratitude for his existence.” (The Gentlewoman, Issue no. 8, Autumn and Winter 2013)

Cue Vivienne Westwood.  I have never met the woman per se, but the first thing I did when I moved to London was buy tickets to hear her speak at an event late 2012.  And it totally effed with my head.

Total love and gratitude for her existence is a sentiment I could get down with.

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Vivienne Westwood, off the bike. And effing with my head. An expert model of her own designs. #Winning 

Total love and gratitude is something I felt when, as a fashion design student at FIT with @bikepretty, I saw an exhibit devoted to her footwear designs in Italy, circa 2007.

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Footwear from the exhibit.  Naomi Campbell, watch out. 

Total love and gratitude is something I feel every time I scour ebay for secondhand castoffs of her designs, my heart swelling with every poorly-photographed asymmetrical seam, every oddball corset, every wonky tartan jacket that graces my search results, their many peplum hems draped just so.  In short, I’ve always looked up to the woman.  After that event however, I feared my opinion forever changed.

She ignored the moderator’s questions, choosing instead to speak about topics that she found more interesting, which included everything from saving the environment to making disparaging comments about her own design team – “They just copy designs from my archive” – or, my favorite – “They spend all their wages on childcare, which doesn’t make any sense to me.  Why not just quit work and stay home with the children?” Maybe you should pay them more, I thought. She proclaimed herself less interested in her line, and in fashion, than ever.  All artists today are crap. No one has any sense of history. And here’s my charity that you should all donate to, we’re saving the rainforest and it’s Really Important.

Several people got up and left the room.  My boyfriend cast a pained look at me and whispered, “Mais…elle est folle!” (he’s French) and said he’d wait for me in the lobby. I remained in my seat until the bitter end, and left feeling cheated, a bit dejected.  Folle, indeed.

Was this really the woman behind all those whimsically anarchic fashions of my dreams?  She seemed so graceless and arrogant.

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*Sigh.* Ms. Westwood on the cover of The Gentlewoman, issue no. 9, Spring and Summer 2014. 

In the intervening time since, I have often parsed the many alarming diatribes that surfaced that evening- and so it was with mixed feelings that I saw her as the cover choice for the latest issue of The Gentlewoman,* my favorite magazine.  I now take my Westwood with a grain of salt, thankyouverymuch.

But as I read through the interview, I found myself chuckling, gradually recognizing in Deborah Orr’s words what had eluded me those many months prior. The interview- *spoiler alert* – nearly mirrors my above experience.  Living through it again was like a cheerful slap in the face:

Vivienne Westwood is a punk! One of the originals!  And what could be more punk  than doing whatever the bloody hell you want?  E.g., subverting international press opportunities and public speaking events to serve as a platform for something you think the world really needs to hear about!

As Orr points out, Vivienne’s life and career “are already well documented, and she doesn’t need the publicity,” further noting “Westwood is not without arrogance, but that’s OK, because her high opinion of herself is backed up by her achievements, the mark she’s made on the world.”

Mmmm don’t get me wrong.  I don’t need to go hear her speak again.  But I will continue to stalk her work on ebay.  And ok Viv, you got me: that shot on the bike, in your own designs, in your own heels, with that plucky, smug environmentalist’s smile on your face, and at age 72 to boot?  That’s pretty punk rock, too.  Something to aspire to.

#BikeWestwood, I think I’m into it.

Turns out the Dame Commander even sent a model down the runway on a bike back in F/W 12. Check out these internet (#bikewestwood) diamonds:

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Vivienne Westwood’s F/W 12 runway show, Paris. Looks like she needs a seat adjustment, and the rest of us need some metallic silver opera gloves.

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Viv & model in a blurry campaign shot.  Anyone know what season this is?

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Stripes & stripes, a winning combination. Circa 2011.

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In London, January 2013, at a press conference to ban ecocide.

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With husband and design partner Andreas Kronthaler, at the 2009 film premiere of “The Age of Stupid.” She rode her bike down the red carpet, and in what looks to be an asymmetrical peg-skirted dress, no less.  So take that.

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*The Gentlewoman is a brilliant biannual publication that is probably the only fashion magazine worth reading, or anyhow, the only one that is refreshingly manageable to keep up with. They once put Inez van Lamsweerde on the cover in a fake beard. ‘Nuff said.

Bike Fashion Backlash and Why I Bike in Heels

A response to Shut up about biking in heels via Bike Musings from the West Coast. I’m not a regular reader of that blog and I have no opinion on Bike Musings in general. But the Shut up… post is chock full of my bike advocacy pet peeves. I found myself typing up the longest comment ever and decided that a post of my own would be a better response.

Why I Bike in Heels

Biking in heels is not a serious women’s issue.

Now that we’re all in agreement:

There is a point to demonstrating how easy it is to bike in heels. It’s a direct counter to all the ways that cycling is presented as a sporty inconvenience.

If I can bike comfortably–in heels even–I’m sharing the message that riding a bike for transportation is an easy part of a fashion-conscious lifestyle.

Not everybody likes to wear heels. That’s cool. The above message isn’t for people that don’t express themselves by wearing heels.

On the flipside, I resent when anyone tries to tell me that I need to know how to fix a bike in order to ride one. I ride a bike every damn day. I’ve done it for 10+ years. I almost always wear dresses & heels and I don’t change into sneakers just to push the pedals.

But I’ve changed a flat like, twice in my life. I hate it. I’m happy to pay a mechanic at an LBS the $8 so I don’t have to bother. Which I rarely have to do, because I’m empowered enough to roll with a pair of puncture-resistant tires. I refuse to believe that a basic mechanical competency is a pre-requisite for enjoying a dang bike commute.

But even that wouldn’t be enough for the OP:

Stop it already and please talk about stuff like becoming self-sufficient, valuable resources for women like ladies nights at co-ops and women’s riding groups and helpful tips like carrying useful and portable layers, things that make rides easier or more enjoyable (saddle adjustments, anyone), developing environmental awareness, carrying things by bike, finding confidence in traffic, handling intimidation from drivers, experiencing sexual harassment on the street, pairing public transportation with biking, nutritional needs for women who ride.

Phew. That’s a lot of homework. Think I’ll go ride my bike instead.

Bike Fashion: Party Pics From SFBC’s Winterfest

What happens when you get a bunch of bike nerds to clean up for a swanky party? Turns out, they clean up good! San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s Winterfest, an annual fundraiser for the non-profit, is kinda like Bike Prom for local bike advocates. It’s the same people you see all the time, except dressed to impress.

Bike Fashion: Mikaela of SF Bike Party and Mary Kay of SF Yellow Bike

Mikaela Carolyn of San Francisco Bike Party with Mary Kay Chin of San Francisco Yellow Bike Project and SFBC

As a regular dress-to-impresser, I get a thrill seeing my bike buddies trade the hi-viz for some high(er) fashion. So I rented a fancy flash for my DSLR and did my best Bill Cunningham impression.

Bike Fashion at Winterfest: Bekki and Frank of San Francisco Bicycle Coalition

SFBC Volunteer Bekki with Frank Chan, Operations Director at SFBC

These are a few of my favorite moments from Winterfest, but I didn’t have space for all of them. Check out the rest of my party pics on the Bike Pretty Facebook page.

Bike Fashion: SFBC Staff Members Eric Turvel, Margaret McCarthy, Bonnie Walton

l-to-r: Eric Tuvel, Program and Design Manager; Margaret McCarthy, Volunteer Coordinator; Bonnie Walton, Event Planner

Bike Pretty: San Francisco Bicycle Coalition's Winterfest 2013

The dancefloor was totally cray. Bike nerds know how to shake it.

Bike Pretty: SFBC Executive Director Leah Shahum and Miles Epstein

Leah Shahum, Executive Director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, and Miles Epstein Continue reading

Milan Fashion Week Street Style: Spring Summer 2014

I rely on Italy’s fashion capital to bring the very best bike fashion. And the latest season did not disappoint.

On a sadder note, despite looking absolutely fabulous, Natalie Joos–one of my favorite street style stars–has decided this will be the last time she bikes at Milan Fashion Week. Leave a comment on her Instagram and encourage her to give bike pretty another shot.

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