Vivienne Westwood Inspired by The Wallace Collection 1990-1991

Vivienne Westwood was a British fashion designer who definitely turned to art as a source of inspiration. The Wallace Collection is a museum that she was especially fond of. Put together in the 18th and 19th centuries by four successive Marquesses of Hertford and the 4th Marquess’s heir Sir Richard Wallace, it includes paintings, furniture, sculpture, arms and armor and porcelain. Many pieces were bought from the biens nationaux, which were properties seized during the French Revolution. In this case, aristocratic properties.

This extraordinary collection was given to the British Nation in 1897 and a national museum was opened in June 1900. The pieces on display sit in Hertford House, a townhouse in London, which was once a high society family residence.

The Wallace Collection in London, England 

Westwood was truly an advocate for going to view the collection. She believed it was the greatest art school in England and that it demonstrated what a high point of art and culture the 18th century is.

It is one of the most celebrated collections in the world and inspired her Fall/Winter 1990-91 Portrait collection. She was particularly taken by French furniture maker André-Charles Boulle and French Rococo artist François Boucher.

Over a dozen of Boucher’s works are in the Wallace Collection and his art is more recognizable than Boulle’s in Westwood’s creations. Part of his painting titled Daphnis and Chloe, which was done in 1743 was printed on scarves, shawls, corsets and ties.

Daphnis and Chloe, 1743 By François Boucher


A long sleeve corset from Vivienne Westwood’s Fall/Winter 1990-91 Portrait collection (L) A shawl from Vivienne Westwood’s Fall/Winter 1990-91 Portrait collection (R)

Westwood said, “I am a great believer in copying; there has never been an age in which people have so little respect for the past.” She also stated that, “In the end you do something original because you overlay your own ideas.” The designer had a deep appreciation for former times and, put in her own words, “All my ideas come from studying the ideas of the past. There is a link between art and fashion. I couldn’t design a thing if I didn’t look at art.”

Daphnis and Chloe, one of the paintings we know she looked at in the Wallace Collection, is oil on canvas and depicts the ancient Greek novel of the same title. The tale is thought to be the first pastoral prose romance and was written by Longus in the 2nd century AD. It is a Greek myth about lovers who go through many trials before possibly getting married. Do they? No spoilers here, you’ll have to read it to find out.


The cover of Daphnis and Chloe By Longus, which was published in approximately 1949

When the painting was first seen it was not widely accepted. This was due to the intimacy it portrayed. To Westwood the work of art is quintessential Boucher. Just as marquetry, a technique first used in the 16th century by Italian craftsmen, is quintessential André-Charles Boulle.

Marquetry is inlaid work made from small pieces of variously colored materials. Boulle is known for inlaying brass and tortoiseshell and in 1672 he was chosen by King Louis XIV to be the royal cabinetmaker at Versailles. He was also allowed to create private commissions. A lot of his inspiration came from his personal collection of drawings, prints and paintings. He had works by Italian artist Raphael Sanzio, the Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens, and the Italian engraver Stefano della Bella.

Marquetry that was done by André-Charles Boulle c. 1670-1675

Boulle’s work was seen in the Portrait collection on corsets, dresses, leggings, bodysuits and other pieces. The items he inspired were made out of velvet and have gold-foil, rococo designs on them. They include figures and patterns taken directly from a toilet mirror he designed in 1713.


A toilet mirror by André-Charles Boulle from 1713


A bodysuit from Vivienne Westwood’s Fall/Winter 1990-91 Portrait collection (L) Leggings from Vivienne Westwood’s Fall/Winter 1990-91 Portrait collection (R)


Vivienne Westwood’s logo


A dress from Vivienne Westwood’s Fall/Winter 1990-91 Portrait collection (L) A close up of Vivienne Westwood’s logo incorporated into the design (R)

Westwood also subtly incorporated her logo into these designs. However, the pieces in the Portrait collection that became the most iconic were the Daphnis and Chloe corsets. Adored by many, getting your hands on one is no easy task. They have gold straps, which look like a painting’s frame, and were modernized. Traditional boning, used to keep a rigid shape in corsets, was not used and zippers were placed up the back of the garments.

Daphnis and Chloe, 1743 By François Boucher


Two corsets from Vivienne Westwood’s Fall/Winter 1990-91 Portrait collection

A Daphnis and Chloe corset is one of multiple pieces, from the Portrait collection, that the Victoria and Albert Museum has in its archives. Vogue also thought highly of what Westwood created and included one in their 1990 September issue. This is particularly noteworthy because the magazine’s September issue is the most significant release each year.


An image from Vogue’s 1990 September issue

With these corsets the 18th century was brought to the 90s and the passing of two centuries had them being worn without anything over them. This was with the help of Westwood herself.

In the 70s she included corsets as daywear when she had a store with, her then partner, Malcolm McLaren. He is best known for managing the Sex Pistols and they sold fetish-wear collections.

In 1987 Westwood made her first corset that was part of a proper collection, separate from the store. It was part of her Harris Tweed collection and she was the first twentieth century designer to revive the corset. Her creation was made to be worn without anything over it.

The top was called Stature of Liberty. Not only because of a corsets effect on ones posture but because for women to be wearing corsets not tucked away under their clothes, to make their bodies look a certain way, was and still is freeing.


Vivienne Westwood’s Stature of Liberty corset being worn (L) Vivienne Westwood’s Stature of Liberty corset (R)

Westwood was not afraid to go against the mainstream. She was far from a conformist. At the store she had with McLaren such explicit t-shirts were sold that one got a person arrested. The couple was prosecuted under obscenity laws in 1975 and, years later, two female models kissed on the runway during the Portrait collection’s show. Playing it safe was not Westwood’s forte.


Two models on the runway at the Fall/Winter 1990-91 Portrait collection show

Both models were wearing Boucher corsets so was the kiss inspired by what Daphnis and Chloe seemed like they were about to do in the painting? Possibly. If not it was still very Westwood. She has said, “I play around with the idea of sexuality because I don’t like orthodoxy in any shape or form.” Whatever the reason it got people’s attention, as art does.

Models in the show were styled based on what most epitomized 18th century paintings. Pearl earrings and necklaces were used, canvas was incorporated into looks and a special trilby hat was created.


A necklace from the Fall/Winter 1990-91 Portrait collection runway show

Westwood explained how Boucher’s art came to be incorporated into the Portrait collection. She said, “Some years ago I wanted to do a collection where I would try to put together a range of fabrics so rich in scope that it would live up to all the different qualities and richness of texture seen in oil paintings. From linen, to lace; tweeds to velvet. When I arranged these fabrics, there was still something missing: somehow, the paintings themselves. I included a piece of painter’s canvas and then I knew I just had to have a photographic print of a painting. I chose the most decorative painter, Boucher, and the most typical Boucher painting in the Wallace is for me the Shepherd Watching a Sleeping Shepherdess (also known as Daphnis and Chloe). I just love the ribbon tied in a bow around the sheep’s neck.”


A close up from Daphnis and Chloe, 1743 By François Boucher

The forward-thinking designer had a great eye and sense of what to include in a collection. She was a very big part of the British Punk movement in the 1980s and was named British designer of the year in 1990 and in 1991. The next year she continued to impress and received the high honor of becoming an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. Awarded to her by Queen Elizabeth II, it was for her work in British fashion. In 2006 Westwood was promoted to Dame of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. This is the female version of being knighted.

In true Westwood fashion she received her award in 1992 not wearing panties. There were pictures taken at Buckingham Palace to prove it and rumor has it one of the photographs amused the Queen.

Dame Vivienne Westwood went on to grow her brand and years later pieces were made that again incorporated Daphnis and Chloe by Francois Boucher. Her husband, who the Vivienne Westwood Gold label was renamed after in 2016, proved to be a fan of the French Rococo painter’s work as well. The label is known as Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood and produced its own Boucher pieces.


Vivienne Westwood Fall/Winter 2021-22 collection

The Portrait collection has proven to stand the test of time and is truly loved. It is even represented at The Metropolitan Museum of Art with a pink pair of pumps. They don’t have a painting printed on them but they were created for the Portrait collection nonetheless.

A pair of pumps from Vivienne Westwood’s Fall/Winter 1990-91 Portrait collection

All that was made for the collection was debuted with portraits of the royal family, chandeliers and gold paintwork surrounding it. The fashion show took place at the headquarters of the Institute of Directors in London. It was undoubtedly the perfect venue.

Westwood’s love for the opulence of the eighteenth century didn’t stop with the Portrait collection. She incorporated different works by Boucher into future designs and her team continues to bring avant-garde pieces to the fashion industry.