In my last blog I wrote about working with our fitting model, Jenny, and the process of pinning and cutting a spontaneous dress on her before the Paris show. Jenny sent me this great description of her own experience as our model which I thought you would be interested in reading as the final part of my description of how a collection is formed. I think it’s the perfect conclusion.

Memoirs of a fitting model
When I started my internship at Vivienne Westwood Studios in December I had no idea I would be a part of all the things I have been. My second day at the studio, I was asked if I would mind to help out with the fittings. As the actual fitting model. Considering myself a creative, highly sensitive soul and not having ever done anything similar, I was a little alarmed but said yes of course I would love to help. During this time I got to experience up close many, many various things and see how the garments were brought to life from rough calicos to the most amazing pieces made with out-of-this- world fabrics. As I clumsily walked up and down in shoes that were too big for my feet in front of Andreas and Vivienne and their team of patternmakers I learned how important it is to find out how the garments not only look but also move and feel. I will explain some events in the way in which they unfolded to me.

Now, the whole month of February was the most intense with me running back and forth trying on various things. One piece here, another one there, one newly attached sleeve here and one altered loose leg there. To my surprise, some things were even made directly on my body. One of the many highlights was the Gulix dress, made from three different fabrics; a strip of the custom made weaved eagle print, of silver sparkling stretch fabric and gold sequins. After a few attempts making it on a mannequin, I was asked if I would mind if they would pin the dress around my body, as then it is easier to see all the proportions, how it moves and if it is comfortable. So, the different pieces were pinned around my body bit by bit by Vivienne with the help of her wonderful assistant Luca. It was a long process to get every bit to look how they wanted it to, both the front and the back, which were very asymmetrical. It was also a challenge to be able to move the arms comfortably, the material there being gold sequins and pinned very tightly. However, it was all achieved and after the right shape of everything was found the pins were exchanged for safety pins so I could remove the dress without scratching myself or losing the positions of the points that were to be sewn. Then carefully a pattern was created by the delightful intern Elena, all the pieces were cut out of the right fabric and sewn together.

Some pieces were remade from previous collections, some fabrics were custom made for the collection like the weaved Dionysus /eagle print, one dress was inspired by the great Marlene Dietrich, others were made from miniatures draped by Vivienne or sketches made by Andreas. Separate pieces were suddenly combined and together formed completely different looks. I realized just how different fabrics can be used in various ways. There are different types of calico to resemble the desired fabric in the way it falls and sits. One example is there was a show stopping enormous purple dress from a previous collection out of heavy taffeta that looked so royal and rich. I tried it on several times with patternmaker Rickard in a newly made calico sample and it was just like the purple dress in the way it draped, moved and felt. Imagine my surprise when one day I came to try it on again and the fabric it had been cut in was nude tulle. The light fabric fell in a dramatically different manner making the shape change completely and it was easier to move in, lighter and softer. In the show its train was also draped differently, instead of flowing loosely at the back, it was wrapped around the body. That this dress was made using the same pattern as the purple dress was unrecognizable. A great example how the same pattern can be used with different fabrics to create completely different looks.

Out of the many, many amazing clothes, one that I wanted to especially mention is the heart dress. This piece was originally from the collection Gaia!-The Only One, spring/summer 2011, and now its destiny was to be reinvented. Patternmaker Barbara took the existing pattern and made a new calico. Previously, it had been a shirt and dress so it would build on that but be developed further. There were countless fittings with this piece and it was not until the showroom in Paris that I would see the final product in the real fabric. One of the first things that changed with the piece was, the addition of sleeves, which was not the easiest thing to do to a heart shaped number. It took time to make them look as part of the shape and also feel comfortable for the wearer. It had a tight corset inside that seemed to get tighter in the different calicos. Andreas wanted it each time more dramatic, more uplifting. It was meant to stand up by itself and not hang on the body. I should mention here that while trying these garments on I had no idea what fabrics or how the end result was supposed to be. For me it was all a surprise at the end. Especially this piece turned out to be a complete surprise to me.

There was a sweet man who makes tutus for the Opera and for this collection he had made a huge tulle skirt out of 60 metres of the most luxurious black tulle. It was just draped on a clothes hanger hanging in the couture department when Bridget came to get me to try something on. It looked amazing hanging there. Like a dream. A magical dream of infinite layers of tulle. I tried it on with a black T-shirt and the train was so long in the back I had to walk in a circle to be able to turn around. Trying on this skirt was one of my most memorable moments. It was so dramatic. Breathtaking. I was pretty much speechless and just wanted to take it all in to remember that moment forever.

Calico Heart Dress

Only days before the show I was asked to try the black tulle skirt on again and suddenly here they came with the heart shaped dress to put on top of it. Now I do not know if that was the plan from the beginning and I was maybe the only one who had not known the pieces would be put together but in any case on top it went and the black tulle skirt took on a completely different life. It was even more dramatic, more fantastic which I had not thought could be possible. However, the heart dress was still in calico. Boning at the top edges – made it stand up all by itself. Suddenly out of nowhere Bridget pulled out a handful of black feathers and stuck them inside the dress in small loopholes that I had not noticed were around the neckline. It was incredible. To get into the lift with three people and this massive dress with feathers was not the easiest but somehow we managed to squeeze in. We were going up to the top floor to show Vivienne and Andreas. When we came down again, there was a new slit in the front of the piece cut by Andreas and some tulle had been pushed through it. He had ripped a strip of calico from somewhere and tied a bow through the slit.

The night before leaving for Paris I tried the piece on for the last time, the corset was tighter and the heart shaped dress part was still in calico. The whole department was delighted with how Barbara and the machinist Janet had managed to get the heart to stand up so well and that it all looked so wonderful. I was shown the fabric it would be made in, leopard-looking orange printed material and I could only imagine what it all would look like.

The following day when I arrived in Paris at the showroom, it was already in full swing and some of the garments were being altered, a ballerina dress of sequins and tulle looked like it had been brutally slashed to create holes in the bodice, sweet intern Franka was taking in loose fitting boots, making them tighter, and some skirts were opened and re-sewn. There was a spectacular hand embroidered dress with gold flowers still being sewn.  Then I saw it hanging in the showroom, the finished heart dress. Just hanging there among the rest. Still looking like a big dream. Like it had always been meant for it to look like that. It was finished and now silently awaiting its moment.


Heart shaped dress

The day of the show, backstage, the accessories were added to the outfits, changing the looks even further. With some I almost did not even recognize the individual pieces without concentrating, they had become complete ensembles, as if organically grown together. There was one look that stands out in my mind, consisting of a silver shirt, boxer shorts peeping through, a long white skirt and hat. It was embellished with enormous gold earrings and a big matching necklace. It looked rich and glamorous. I recall I tried that skirt on the night before still unaware of what top it would be paired with. It was just one of many wonderful surprises backstage at the show. It was thrilling to see all the models with the hair and makeup done walking around with the clothes, laughing and talking, breathing life into them.After the show was over and back at the studio, the seams in the discarded calicos were opened and all parts carefully removed so the fabric could be used again for something else. This was true also for the heart dress calicos. How strange it was to see all the pieces that only a week ago had been carefully stitched together be now taken apart like that. A real eerie feeling that something had ended, it was over. But I guess so the cycle goes.

This was just a small, small account of things that took place with a few of the many, many garments during this collection, there was so unbelievably much more. Almost every garment made was somehow altered and redeveloped to be the best it could be. Some in the end were not shown in the fashion show in Paris. However, the ones that were took a lot of different roads to the catwalk, some more winding than others.  But all fuelled by endless amount of thought, work and passion.

Jenny Tallberg
15 March 2011

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  1. It sounds like a wonderful creative place, where the unexpected happens. From my experience, it all starts with the fabrics, and then the idea follows. A true creative fashion show cannot be planned months in advance as much as industry wants to do this.Fashion cannot be just about dollars and cents.
    Great—- let’s keep doing things the way we do…be the original, and not the copy..

    Comment by sofia verna on March 25, 2011 at 2:31 pm

  2. It must have been really nerve-wracking heading up to the top floor in the dress. Not really knowing what Vivienne and Andreas were going to think!

    Either way that particular dress is one of my favourites from the collection and really represents the World Wide Woman; a confident and aware being who knows that she looks good.

    Loved the collection and this extra insight into how it came together was, as usual, fascinating!

    Comment by James Emmett on March 27, 2011 at 1:07 pm

  3. I love it ! Jenny you are great :) I will miss you.

    Comment by Marta on April 12, 2011 at 8:37 pm