You're never really sure what's going on at Vivienne Westwood. Ask the woman herself to explain what we've just seen, the paper-streamer-strewn party frock she showed for Autumn/Winter 2010, say, or the child's cut-out cardboard crown drunkenly slipping down a model's head, and she'll mumble an inconsistent incoherency about whatever cause she is espousing at the moment and leave you to your own devices. You suspect she does the same to her design team, but so mired are they in the cult of Westwood (and you only have to go to her Conduit Street boutique on a weekend to realise such a cult exists) that when they design, it's as if she designs.
This season, we had more of the standard Westwood fare - airs of Nostalgia of Mud in wrapped and hooded heads, sometimes a felt trilby slotted underneath to bulk out the silhouette. That silhouette, as ever, was topsy-turvy, sliced apart and reconfigured with scraps of contrasting fabric into random protrusions jutting from the figure. Her palette made some seasonal concession, satin coloured with tobacco, dirty purple and dark beige and cut into trousers with inflated thighs and a dropped-crotch. Those serve as a typical illustration of Westwood's idiosyncrasy - she's been offering these trousers for years, but suddenly they segue with what everyone else is doing, and hence look fresh and appealing. It was likewise easy to abstract frock-coats from under the morass of bunched fabric, either true frock-coats sliced in shiny black slipper-satin, or a tromp l'oeil of frogged and braided front knitted into a cardigan. Westwood has been doing that for the past five years or so, but now it seems relevant once again.
Of course, that will be of no concern to Westwood, who makes concerted efforts to remain aloof and distant from contemporary culture (the opposite, say, of Karl Lagerfeld's incessant zeitgeist-chasing). There's a certain credit to that, but it always runs the risk that Westwood's fashion will slip into irrelevance for many bar her loyal coterie of hard-core enthusiasts.