"We are the world’s best imitators and that is how we evolved into humans. We understand the world because we imitate it," Vivienne Westwood tells a tiny audience that includes rapper Lupe Fiasco, designers Raven Kauffman and Magda Berliner (beautifully clad in a Lanvin for H&M dress she further altered into something else) and me. It's a challenge making out everything Dame Westwood it so intently sharing with all the celebratory racket swirling around us on this delicious Wednesday night. This is, after all, the long-awaited grand opening of her flagship in Los Angeles and capacity has far exceeded the limit for both the fire marshal and our general comfort.
Seated in a tall chair underneath the flicker of her recent fashion show screening on the high wall behind us, the icon didn't let the fact there was a party in full swing stop her from going into relaying her Active Resistance Manifesto for all those within earshot. She ocassionally beckoned her collaborator/husband, Andreas Kronthaler, to pass her copies of the declaration, printed on a brown paper, so she could hand them out to the endless fans lined up to meet and greet her. And the "AR" button she attached to her long vanilla dress signaled the battle cry she's been touting since 2007 officially, and, let's face it, the better part of her career in one form or another.
Sure, I am one of those diehard fans, all the way to my VW toe combat boots that I teetered in that night. But before I could justify my hello and rush to tell her all the times we'd spent before together, supping, hanging out, how I often stayed with her son and his now ex and their daughter, the old dame beat me to the punch. At age 69, Vivienne's powers appear to extend to recall and that included some details even I'd long forgotten.
I moved on to catch up with Lauren Taschen, seated next to Vivienne and acting as evening co-host. Even she revealed her high regard for her friend by ditching the customarily restrained clothes she usually wears for a second-skin leopard dress by the designer. Several strangers thrust their cameras in my hands and before I could sneak off in anticipation of yet another one asking "please," Dita Von Teese and entourage swarmed over, having arrived just as the Veuve finshed partywide. Lots of thirsty guests on this tepid late March night.
Dita was with her handsome other half, Louis-Marie de Castelbajac, who'd just flown in from Paris that morning, along with pal-manager Melissa Dishell and several very good old pals, including sweet Eddie Demon. Among the many Westwood frocks that hang in Dita's wardrobe is the deep eggplant-colored wedding gown the designer famously custom made for her wedding to her now-ex Marilyn Manson, who also happened to be there at the party. Tense? Don't believe the hype. It was a time for grace and even a few laughs among the group. Even that magnificent purple dress will be reborn in a 2013 exhibition devoted to wedding dresses at the V&A in London.
"Aristotle took the practical view that the essence of any object lay in its end or purpose," Dame Westwood writes in her manifesto. And so even the beauty of a dress created for a short-lived marriage gets another day in the spotlight.
As for the store? It's everything and more, from the hot pink neon sign facing Melrose to the brass hooves propping up glass cases filled with product. The second floor is a VIP showroom, because such amenities are required in L.A. And the VW machine maxmized space use by transforming the rooftop with elevator access and lush hedges.
Yesterday, two days after the grand bash, I was cruising along Melrose, when I spotted three young Japanese girls exiting the fort-like corner store. They were crazy clad in a mash-up of pastel Victoriana-meets-ragdoll fashion, stripey thigh-high socks and all, and one even balanced a towering pink Marie Antoinete wig. And all this in the broad daylight of a 88-degree Friday afternoon!
Such is the sacrifice for art and beauty. Viva la Résistance!
(Sadly, my borrowed camera did not turn it out so well!)
A Perfect Stranger
Melissa Dishell and pal Sean James
Photos: All by Rose Apodaca except photo with VW and Christina Hendricks.