➤ Caught on camera: the day the King and Queen of Outrage realised the end was nigh
➤ An Evening Standard exclusive breaks the news
of a parting of the ways
❚ AN ACRIMONIOUS POWER STRUGGLE threatens to split the infamous couple who unleashed the punk revolution and later created the pirate look that launched Adam Ant. Malcolm McLaren, manager of the pioneering punk-rock group the Sex Pistols, and Vivienne Westwood, the eccentric designer who clothed them, became King and Queen of Outrage overnight in 1976.
Today they are daggers-drawn in a battle royal for control of their company, Worlds End, which has become the hottest name in avant-garde style.
“I will fight tooth and nail,” McLaren said in an exclusive interview with The Standard as he awaited his partner’s arrival in London today for a showdown. “Worlds End may continue with or without Vivienne Westwood.”
The 13-year partnership of McLaren, 36, and Westwood, 42, has transformed aspects of British youth culture and Vogue this year placed them among the “chief engineers of contemporary style”. Shock is their keynote, from the punk music and bondage wear of 1976 to the romantic pirate suit that is already in the Victoria and Albert Museum. In 1980 Worlds End became the fifth incarnation of their clothes shop on King’s Road in Chelsea which has evolved to catch or create successive musical trends.
Last spring Vivienne Westwood became the first British designer in a decade to be invited to show alongside the major collections in Paris. Her sensational and witty ideas have been blatantly stolen by other designers, especially the Japanese. Worlds End – whose two London shops are shrines among weekend fashion freaks – is widely acknowledged to have put Britain’s booming street fashion scene firmly at the centre of the international stage.
In Paris last month American fashion directors from Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s described its newest street-dancing collection as “impressive” and “fantastic”. Yet since the £50,000 show three weeks ago, speculation has been rife that Worlds End is on the verge of bankruptcy and ripe for take-over by Italian fashion giant, Fiorucci.
Tickets for the World’s End October 17 show in Paris bore the latin legend “Hic habitat felicitat” – “Here happiness dwells”. Women’s Wear Daily hailed it “The Rock Steady Collection”. Neither sentiment was remotely near the mark. When Malcolm McLaren arrived in Paris from New York, he found himself outnumbered by Vivienne Westwood’s Italian friends and being edged out of the picture.
At the party “coincidentally” thrown after the show by Elio Fiorucci, McLaren staged a spectacular row with his partner and the Italian fashion magnate. Fiorucci’s obvious ambition to regain credibility in Britain began when he bought i-D magazine three issues ago and with it the talented art director Terry Jones. Earlier this summer Westwood joined Fiorucci in Milan as a consultant and he has since been keen to acquire Worlds End staff.
Today, as the row became public in London, Fiorucci said enigmatically from Milan that he hoped “to continue with Vivienne Westwood for many years – because I love Vivienne Westwood”. Yet with the prestigious WWD show in Tokyo mid-November still to play for, everyone wants to know who will win the Worlds End label.
Last night as the legal wrangles grew more bitter, McLaren lashed out verbally at both his partner and the Italian threat. He told The Standard: “There is no financial trouble. But we are having grave discussions about where Worlds End collections are to be produced. I don’t want this company falling into the hands of Elio Fiorucci. The Worlds End marque is more significant than the likes of Fiorucci. For the past four years I have personally financed and developed our concepts. I haven’t struggled for 10 years to see them go off to Italy.”
It was Vivienne Westwood who turned to Italy’s flush fashion industry for support. She said recently: “In this country banks won’t give you the kind of financial backing you need to make your business international. Our resources were not sufficient to fulfil the orders I was getting.”
Fiorucci has long wanted to own the patterns which Worlds End has turned into modern classics. For some months Westwood has been based in Milan where she has already designed one collection for Fiorucci as an independent project. The battle when she confronts McLaren in London this weekend will be over the future of the valuable Worlds End label.
Last night McLaren swore his allegiance to Britain’s street culture which is the backbone of our contemporary music. He said: “Worlds End was born out of British fashion, in particular our street culture. Worlds End has a forceful identity and has become a source of inspiration.”
He then delivered what must rank as one of his all-time quotes: “What we create on the streets out of the dustbins of England is an extremely exportable commodity. Worlds End was born of something subversive. If Vivienne wants to go down a more bourgeois road, fair enough, but she owes some consideration to the partnership here. I’m afraid that she’ll end up making a verbal agreement with the Italians. She does tend to get embroiled in spaghetti dinners and fall for Italian charm. I am concerned that the Worlds End marque remains English. I’m not going to throw it away easily.”
It is often overlooked that the themes for Westwood’s designs come from McLaren: the savages, the hobos, the witches. Westwood admits that McLaren taught her everything she knows, while her ambition to move on from playing cults to international designer status is not new.
As McLaren spoke this week he restated his own wish never to grow up. There was much bitterness in his voice and he said much that was malicious. When he railed against Milanese gigolos who accuse him of perversion, there was sadness too. The odd couple who gave shape to some of the most inventive styles of our times were on-off lovers for many years and have a 13-year-old son, Joe. Westwood refused to marry McLaren but his Svengali-like powers are well known. Then last spring colleagues noticed that Vivienne stopped saying “Malcolm says … Malcolm thinks …” Her love affair with Italy had begun.
In London for the showdown, Westwood said with immense dignity: “I can’t tolerate this man. His behaviour has been inexcusable, conjuring up what seems to be a soap opera.” And suddenly she sounded more like patient mother than ex-lover. “Malcolm has one more chance to be good. And if he can’t, I will have to carry on on my own.”
The scene was set for pistols at dawn when McLaren riposted: “I hope Vivienne continues with Worlds End, but I’m not incapable of designing the next collection myself.”
Text includes additional reporting in The Face, Dec 1983.