Westwood steps off catwalk and into gallery

BEIRUT: There is perhaps a no more ideal setting for an exhibition of shoes from Vivienne Westwood, British fashion royalty, than Achrafieh’s Linda Sursock Palace.

Its modern opulence and traditional influences reflect much about the designer, who is known almost as much for her historical inspiration and flamboyance as she is for pushing boundaries with her use of punk aesthetics.

The exhibition of around 100 shoes dating back over 40 years of Westwood’s work arrived in Beirut Thursday on its world tour.

On display are classics including the 1993 Super Elevated Gillie, the 9-inch, indigo mock-crocodile skin platforms which became notorious after supermodel Naomi Campbell tumbled on the catwalk while wearing them. Visitors can also see the original 1981 version of the enduring pirate boot, which has experienced a resurgence on the feet of celebrities such as Sienna Miller and Kate Moss in recent years.

The showcase is the latest Westwood arrival to Beirut, coming after the opening of a boutique in Downtown in 2009. Giordano Capuano, the international marketing manager at Vivienne Westwood, said Beirut was a key stop on the world tour.

“Beirut is a city of deep culture, and at the same time of deep contrast. Just like Vivienne Westwood.” And, he says, Beirut is the ideal location from which to reach out to the rest of the Middle East. “There’s a base here,” he said. “There’s a lot of interest in culture.”

Westwood, who was catapulted to fame at the height of punk during the 1970s after meeting Malcolm McLaren, the manager of the Sex Pistols, has long held a special place in the heart of the fashion world, inspiring devotion and an enduring legacy beyond the catwalk. In 1992 she was awarded an OBE by the British queen. And for many people Thursday night was an important date for their cultural calendar.

“It’s like attending a gallery. It’s very artistic,” Beatrice Harb, a 27-year-old stylist wearing a pair of black winged Vivienne Westwood sandals from a 2010 collaboration, said. “For me, in my line of work, it’s important to see things like this.”

Aline Karan, 39, who works as an adviser to the chairman of Alfa, agreed. “It’s about more than just shoes,” she said while admiring a pair of red patent buckled boots. “Whatever Vivienne Westwood does, there’s a spirit to it.”

With a wealth of work spanning over four decades, the 70-year-old Westwood’s designs hold an appeal to both young and old, women and men alike. At Thursday’s opening, Imad Esseily, a 52-year-old pilot accompanying his sister, praised the collection, although he admitted to thinking some of the designs were “a little bit crazy.”Vivienne Westwood Shoes: An Exhibition is at the Linda Sursock Palace, Sursock Street, Achrafieh, until Tuesday May 24.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 21, 2011, on page 12.




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