Fred Vermorel, Vivienne Westwood: Fashion, Perversity and the Sixties Laid Bare
contribution to Bookforum "lost classics" feature, 2013
by Simon Reynolds
Fred Vermorel achieved both renown and notoriety for his unorthodox approach to pop biography and as a theorist of fame and fandom. But 1996’s Vivienne Westwood: Fashion, Perversity and the Sixties Laid Bare was his most eccentric statement yet.
For a start, the book was as much about Westwood’s partner Malcolm McLaren as the legendary designer herself. Her story was ably chronicled in an imaginary interview weaved together from magazine quotes and half-remembered ancedotes stemming from Vermorel’s long association with the punk couture duo and the Sex Pistols milieu.
But the book really came alive with the central section: Vermorel’s memoir of Sixties London, when he and McLaren were art-school accomplices. The longest and most vivid part of the book, it’s packed with fascinating digressions on topics such as the semiotics of cigarette smoking and the atmosphere of all-night art cinema houses. Among Vermorel’s several provocative assertions is the claim that pop music back then simply wasn’t as important as made out by subsequent false memorials to the Sixties, but was regarded as unserious, a mere backdrop to other bohemian or artistic activities.
Posing as a profile of a fashion icon, Vivienne Westwood presents the reader with an outlandish blend of cultural etiology (it doubles as an autopsy on the Sixties’s impossible dreams and analysis of its perverse psychology) and triangular love story. Vermorel and Westwood emerge as both still besotted with the incorrigible McLaren, despite having each “broken up” with him long ago.