I'm a bit of a buff for any tidbit of late-Enlightenment trivia. Did you know, for instance, that Napoleon agreed to ennoble his generals on condition that their wives opened a salon? I didn't, until this evening, but it's the kind of bon mot Dame Vivienne Westwood has been dropping in her show notes for twenty years now. This is a woman who, legend has it, replied to British customs officials enquiring as to whether she had packed her bag herself with a quoted snippet of Ancient Greek literature, so maybe we got off lightly with the wives of Bonaparte's generals as our inspirational women for Autumn/Winter 2011.
Well, they were one source of inspiration - Westwood's palimpsest of cod-philosophy this season spouted the idea of the 'World Wide Woman', and women dressing to look important. There's nothing odd about that latter point though, it was the foundation of power-dressing in the eighties, and has been a mantra of Westwood's approach to design for years. Maybe that's why much of her Gold Label offering this season stuck far closer to, well, clothing in the traditional sense than we're used to seeing.
There were curvy grey suits aplenty peppered with oversized buttons, tailoring curved in to the waist and out at the hip, pencil skirts hugging the leg. Occasionally Westwood decreed these to be worn with overblown blouses, but the affect was still elegant: a bit forties, a bit couture, right in line with what everyone else was doing. If you had a bit of a Revolutionary moment and lopped off the models' over-made-up and coiffured heads with a guillotine, they could have wandered off the Lanvin catwalk next door. The long-john style knitted frocks and a few of the brocade numbers were equally simple and sophisticated.
That was, frankly, your lot. Westwood then got lost in their usual convoluted playground - this time giant, catwalk-dwarfing ball-gowns vomiting trails of petticoat net, velvet-flocked army helmets with sparkly veils and a few million sequins spangling half-a-dozen slinky, sleazy evening dresses. But, perhaps with a nod to their new red-hot red-carpet status, Westwood even pulled back a little on these gag garments. A draped black silk number with apron-tied skirt was faultlessly elegant (Westwood has loved the folds of the Greek chiton since the late eighties, so she's a dab hand with a bolt of fluid satin-back crepe), and a bride could do much, much worse than Westwood's pleated tulle number with slightly saucy semi-transparent corset.