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Tapering Bondage Trousers (part of the Dunbar suit)

WAG 2004.27.2

Part of

Queer style

About this object

This suit is from Vivienne Westwood's Anglomania Collection (Autumn- Winter 1993). Known as the 'Dunbar Suit', it is made from traditional wool tartan, a fabric that fascinates Westwood and which has been frequently incorporated into her designs. The bondage-style trousers recall Westwood’s punk origins. It was worn by the gay musician Holly Johnson as a solo artist, following the break up in 1987 of the band Frankie Goes to Hollywood. From his earliest days as a punk on the Liverpool music scene, Johnson had been an admirer and collector of Westwood’s iconic designs.

Vivienne Westwood (born 1941) is best known for pioneering punk fashion during the mid-to-late 1970s, together with her former husband, Malcolm McLaren (1946-2010). In 1971, Westwood and McLaren opened a boutique on the King’s Road, Chelsea, called Let it Rock that sold custom-made clothes for Teddy Boys and 1950s paraphernalia. In 1973 the couple began to produce original designs incorporating leather and studding that were influenced by the leather, biker and sadomasochistic scenes associated with gay men. They also incorporated elements of traditional Scottish design such as tartan. The shop was renamed Too Fast To Live, Too Young To Die, and later became Sex, to reference their growing preoccupation with fetish and bondage clothes and provocative, often sexual, imagery that drew heavily on gay pornography. The pair thought that the best way to confront the narrow closed-mindedness of English society was to be as obscene as possible – to shock. It was this look that would form the basis of British punk.

This change in style was also influenced by a relationship the couple formed with the American punk band the New York Dolls. Westwood and McLaren both designed costumes for the group and incorporated their ideas and styles into the clothing sold at the boutique. McLaren was particularly attracted to the unique mixture of trash, glamour and queer style that characterised the New York punk scene, and which he had encountered when accompanying the band in the early seventies. The early American punk look had evolved out of glitter rock. It borrowed heavily from queer culture, in particular the drag queens, transvestites, transsexuals and rent boys that populated Andy Warhol’s ‘Factory’ scene. The New York Dolls’ own androgynous and gender-bending appearance was influenced by the style of the two most famous ‘downtown drag queens’ associated with Andy Warhol (1928-87); these were Jackie Curtis (1947-85) and the transsexual actress, Candy Darling (1944-74).

In 1981, Westwood and McLaren launched their first formal collection which they called Pirate. After her split from McLaren in the mid-‘80s Westwood began to look to a wider range of influences for her designs, ranging from the upper-class glossy magazine ‘Tatler’ to Russian ballet. She went on to produce garments inspired by historical subjects, ethnic styles, 18th-century French art and classic British tweeds and tailoring.
  • Date
    1993
  • Maker
    Vivienne Westwood
  • Materials
  • Credit line
    Purchased 1993
  • Location
    Item not currently on display
  • Place made
    Unknown or unrecorded
  • Collection
    From the Walker Art Gallery collections
Object view = Decorative Arts
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