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A Collectors Story: A private collection of Vivienne Westwood

Discover a snapshot of the late Vivienne Westwood's career through the eyes of the collector, Peter Smithson, in The Bowes Museum's latest Capsule Collection, opening on 22 July 2023.

A stunning black velvet catsuit with gold ink featuring Westwood's orb logo from the Portrait (autumn/winter 1990/91) collection and a MacPoiret tartan jacket, cap and micro-kilt with bustle, Peter Pan shirt, cardigan and orb tie from On Liberty (autumn/winter 1994/95) are just some of the designer's most iconic looks from the 80s and 90s that will be on view on loan from Smithson.

These items of clothing and accessories will be set alongside objects from the County Durham Museum's 50,000 strong collection that echo and contextualise the historical references in Westwood's work, allowing visitors to really examine the materials and techniques used.

With a particular focus on the years from Mini-Crini (1985) to Storm in a Teacup (1996/97), people will be able to see a fantastic selection, including a star printed sphere crinoline with wood grain corduroy jacket from spring/summer 1986 close to a crinoline from 1869 in the Fashion & Textiles gallery as well as a number of historic bustles from the Museum's stored collection.

Part of a suit of armour from the collection will be on display near an Armour jacket in check tweed with matching Criniscule skirt, Principal Boy shirt and deerstalker hat from the Time Machine autumn/winter 1988/89 collection, visitors will be able to see how the different pieces of armour fit together to protect the arms and how Westwood recreates the effect in the heavy tweed.

Smithson's favourite outfit, a slashed denim jacket and jeans with a diagonally cut exaggerated smock shirt from Cut, Slash and Pull (spring/summer 1991) will be sited near a miniature portrait from the early 17th century depicting a man wearing a slashed doublet showing the contrasting colour of the layer underneath.

These are among the highlights of Peter Smithson's collection which are on loan to the Museum. Smithson, a teacher from Cumbria, started collecting Westwood in the 1980s after being drawn to the designer's early punk work and being wowed by models wearing her tartan bondage trousers on the Clothes Show and later seeing a man leaving the Westwood shop in Manchester wearing them in the Metropolitan suit. He didn't set out to become a collector but aspired to have the confidence of the man wearing the trousers. He visited Westwood's stores as a teenager and recalls looking at the clothes almost as objects of interest in a museum. Now, with thousands of items in his collection and more than a hundred full outfits he decided it was time to share some of them for others to enjoy.

Peter said: "It was very important to me to approach a Museum that was in the north of England. I'm from the north of England and I wanted to keep the collection in the north of England and I wanted to allow people in the north of England to experience something that perhaps normally you would have to travel further afield for.

"I wanted to work with a team who had both the experience and expertise of displaying things in the best manner possible, whilst ensuring the conservation of the items and I wanted a team that I could trust to look after them because this is not just a collection, these are memories of my youth and growing up from when I was in my teens to the present day."

Rachel Whitworth, The Bowes Museum's Curator of Fashion and Textiles added: "We were delighted when Peter approached us with the idea of showing some of the amazing items in his collection.The Museum had a great working relationship with Vivienne Westwood, so to be able to honour her work by showing his collection, set among items from our own that echo Westwood's story and show how her work was influenced by art and history felt like the right fit. Many of the 12 outfits and various accessories, including hats, scarves and shoes that we've worked with Peter to select, will feel familiar to people and I'm sure this capsule collection will certainly spark conversations as well as memories."

A COLLECTOR'S STORY: A private collection of VIVIENNE WESTWOOD opens on Saturday 22 July and runs until 4 February 2024.


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