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Andreas Kronthaler’s first words to me come in the form of playful admonishment. “Are you being naughty?” he asks. He’s caught me trying on hats in the showroom of Vivienne Westwood’s Paris HQ, and arches an eyebrow in mock-disapproval. This imposing figure, all d’Artagnan hair and baggy trousers, cocks his head slightly, but I’m sizing him up too. He looks tired and a little disheveled. I hope he’s led the sort of wild life you expect of his ilk, because good times are etched on his face like souvenirs of hedonism. Regardless, he is undoubtedly a handsome chap, and those Willow pattern-blue eyes, often described as saturnine, glint optimistically.

By Andreas’ standards the look today is fairly low-key, although a cardigan stretched across his broad shoulders is not the kind of garment often seen on a grown man. It looks like a pattern your grandmother might have knitted in the late 1960s—baby rhubarb pink, finished with trailing pom-poms that swing violently around his body when he walks. The effect is kindergarten chic, and in a characteristically playful way it suits him to a tee. He tells me he keeps fit by doing ballet, “or at least some of the exercises,” and wafts about the room quite gracefully for a man of six foot three, pom-poms flying everywhere. This 50-year-old Austrian is, of course, Mr Vivienne Westwood. More importantly he is also the company’s creative director, and designs their most high-end line. The two met in 1988 when he was studying fashion design at the University of Applied Arts Vienna and she was a visiting professor, almost twice his age. Fashion legend has it their eyes met over the lectern and it was love at first sight, but he’s not so sure. “It’s quite a while ago, and I’ve forgotten it all,” he laughs, half joking. “Maybe it was one of those important encounters that only happens once in your life? I remember she was wearing a harlequin catsuit that day and talked about history. I was quite young—24, 25—and suddenly everything made sense to me. I was always quite highbrow, you know. I liked intelligent people and beautiful women. I was never a punk.”

Vivienne is everything. “I absolutely loff her,” he declares with Tyrolean zeal. “I was fitting her for the recent show, and I thought, oh my God, look at this woman who is far into her 70s. It’s two in the morning and we’re working like monkeys, and there she is putting on all these clothes. And she looked amazing. Of course, Vivienne is someone who can wear the really outstanding stuff. When it looks good on her, that’s when I’m happy. I base everything on her, more or less.”

There is much mutual appreciation. He thinks she has the softest skin he’s ever felt, and she says he’s the best designer in the world. “We are very happy together,” he says easily. “I appreciate every hour with her. Sometimes she gets a bit, I don’t know, when I don’t wash up the dishes. She’s also very frugal, and this gets on my nerves sometimes. She’s always walking around the house turning lights and heaters off. Living in a freezing house with only one heater on! She sits in bed wearing six sweaters. Sometimes I put the heating on secretly, it’s like playing games.

Domestic bliss aside, I presume they’ve spent the past twenty-five years discussing ideas and culture? “A little bit”, he says, nose wrinkling, “but we’re not big discussers. You live a life and things happen to you, and you take that and hopefully you find it important or interesting or worthwhile.”

Like many fashion iconoclasts, Westwood and Kronthaler are ahead of their time. The fashion world is catching up with their wonky spirit and obtuse shapes, and embracing the brand as something unique and important in a world increasingly dominated by fast moving fashion. “It’s healthy that fashion is now being seen as art. It’s very, very important to me. It’s about setting yourself apart from all the boring High Street stuff. We are living in a very consumerist society where we are bombarded with stuff, so to make something worthwhile I think it has to be different.”

Pushed on how to define his latest collection—experimental to say the least—he is firm. “There is nothing to understand. I don’t want to repeat myself, that’s all. I just like to give people a choice, you know? My big hero was always Yves Saint Laurent. Vivienne and I always used to go to the couture shows in the early 1990s. There were hundreds of looks and every one was totally different. Every one was fucking amazing, and this was normal.”

He tells me they recently attended the exhibition dinner at Musée Bourdelle in honour of Spanish couturier Balenciaga. “Unbelievable,” he bellows. “Unbelievably good. Those dresses are fucking painful to look at. Total Zen! I don’t know where it came from, but I find it very uplifting inside, and it makes me feel like I’m doing the right thing. Wonderful clothes. They’re so human, and that’s what Vivienne’s clothes have achieved as well.”

After a while, the cheeky side of Andreas kicks in. “So,” he asks, leaning back, “where are you from? Cheshire? How loffly! That’s near where Vivienne is from. They’re the best, nicest people, Northerners. I loff strong Northern women. There’s something about them. The humour! And by God they’re tough. I went to Tintwistle last year because I really wanted to see where Vivienne is from. It was terribly bleak, I must say. Totally hardcore.”

Is that what people think of Vivienne—hardcore? “Definitely! She’s someone who has always spoken her mind and there needs to be more people like that. Her voice has weight and it means a lot to people. She is brave. I think they will remember her for the campaigning more than anything. She’s somebody who really cares about the environment. Because it will hit us. The shit will hit the fan quite soon.”

With serendipity and no great fanfare, the grand dame herself appears in the far corner of the room and begins to inspect a rail of samples. “Just look at her,” demands Kronthaler, blue eyes flashing. “When we were at Balenciaga the other night, she easily looked the best there. Eeeeasily. I mean really, there is nobody to match her.”

For more visit www.viviennewestwood.com

Paul Tierney stayed at the OFF Paris Seine – Paris’ first and only floating hotel. www.offparisseine.com

Neue Fashion • Issue 4 • Fashion • Feature • BY Paul Tierney SHARE

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