This was a show dedicated to Venice. Entitled 'Mirror the World', its plight against the planet's rising sea levels was charged with emotion. This city is the emblem for so much more than gondolas. Having faced great adversity, its founders, driven out of northern Italy by Attila the Hun, were forced to settle in an inhabitable mosquito-ridden lagoon. The only way to live here was to build houses on stilts. Five hundred years later, it was the most decadent city in the world.
On the catwalk, the collection opened with hessian sacks that spoke of the dwellers’ primitive beginnings, whilst strapped gladiator heels revealed their inner strength. Coats were suspended above models’ head and shoulders, suggesting a city that punched above its weight, right from the beginning. Men walked the runway, along with the girls, in humble fabrics and matching cork platforms. Paper bag waists tied with string also spoke of humble beginnings. Fluoro wigs sat underneath models’ natural hairlines, and rustic creative celebrations arrived via denim and canvas painted denim jackets and joyful ra-ra skirts.
As the most important trading point in the world, Venice controlled the eastern links with the rest of the world. The first bank in the world was in Italy. Their riches – and ambitions - knew no bounds. Captains of great ships walked here too this season - and like Westwood's pirates, Venetians did their fair share of looting too. They even stole relics of their Saint and smuggled him into the country, in a fishermen’s boat covered with pork. Doge red cavalier Westwood boots spoke of Venice’s cavalier way of doing business.
Veils covered the models’ faces with stitched on spots. They evoked both the plight of the plague – where the city lost a third of its population - and the syphilis breakout from their six month long carnival shenanigans. Two of Venice’s most notorious lovers – of the city and its women – appeared, as shades of Casanova and Lord Byron started to appear within the collection. The carnival had a dangerous unwanted side, and the soundtrack at the show was made up of devilish electric guitar strings melded with haunting carnival sounds. Incredible crystal embellished harlequin looks for both men and women glamoured the audience. Circle skirts appliquéd with gold baroque detailing, and cross-cross medieval doublets, were so cartoonish that they playfully bordered on commedia dell' arte. As the show music alternated between the restrained chamber music and the terrifying, a ringmaster voice bellowed out: 'move along, move along, make way for the magic people, the shape shifting magic people.' God bless the magic of Venice. God bless, Westwood.