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SAN FRANCISCO — “I’ve worn most of these clothes. That’s the reason we probably still have them,” mused Dame Vivienne Westwood on Thursday as she walked through the de Young Museum exhibit dedicated to her, aptly named “Vivienne Westwood: 36 Years in Fashion.” The 150 designs on display represent a history of her work as well as slices of popular culture from four decades — like her first collection under her own label in 1981, “Pirate,” with its style references to Native Americans and 19th-century Merveilleuses, or the Westwood-spawned craze in the Nineties of corsets as outer garments.
The designer was feted with not one but two major galas at the museum on both weekend evenings. The museum’s patrons celebrated Westwood on Friday night with cocktails in the tower, attended by San Francisco socials Dede Wilsey, Danielle Steel, Christine Suppes and Tatiana Sorokko. The following evening, there was a soiree for the public and Westwood fans swarmed around her enthusiastically.
She capped off her tour of the city, which ended Sunday afternoon at the Academy of Art University, with an honorary doctorate, a proclamation from the mayor declaring the date “Dame Vivienne Westwood Day,” a chocolate dessert made in the shape of her trademark high-heeled platform pump and a visit with fellow British designer and iconoclast Zandra Rhodes.
Rhodes said she was happy to make a trip to San Francisco from Houston where she’s designing the sets and costumes for the Houston Grand Opera’s upcoming “Aida.” The fuchsia-tressed designer said she and Westwood “have worked parallel” in the fashion world. “I’ve been called the princess of punk, and she, the queen of punk,” said Rhodes, who joined Westwood on the stage Sunday to talk with students at the university.
Perhaps it was Westwood’s new raw-food-only macrobiotic diet, but the designer showed no signs of tiring during her visit. She said she stays fit by eating well and biking to work, and doesn’t believe in plastic surgery, computers — or radio or TV, for that matter. Westwood, who would rather read a history tome than watch a sitcom, urged students to seek creative fodder from art, history and classical music. “I’ll give you a piece of advice,” she told the eager pupils. “If you want to be a fashion designer, don’t look at fashion magazines. Don’t care about them. Look at costume.”