Andreas Kronthaler has been by the side of Vivienne Westwood for almost 30 years. Recently that partnership was recognized in a very public way when the house changed the name of her signature label to read “Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood”. Here Kronthaler opens up about their life together and the future he envisions for the fashion world’s most rebellious brand
Andreas Kronthaler is the other half of Vivienne Westwood, both in fashion and in matrimony. Meeting at university in Vienna in 1988 when Westwood was a visiting lecturer, she was so impressed by student Kronthaler’s series of transformable, circular belted Renaissance dresses that she invited him to London in 1989 to develop these designs. They became part of Westwood’s collection, he stayed and they married in 1993. Everything you associate with Westwood since, you need to associate with him too. They encourage each other’s strengths and are very much a team.
I meet Kronthaler at Westwood’s Battersea studio, where their neighbors are the Royal College of Art’s painting and sculpture rooms. Over the river, we’re ten minutes away from the holy grail: the Worlds End shop, the spot where, with Malcolm McLaren, Westwood famously ripped society’s status quo apart by fashioning outrageous clothing, sold by outrageous shop girls for an audacious new world before esta- blishing herself independently and becoming one of the 20th century’s most iconoclastic aesthetes. The rain is pummeling against the roof of Kronthaler and Westwood’s creative space, where fabric and books are piled on a huge central table. Cut-out inspiration pictures are plastered over windows – lit from behind on a sunny day the effect would be like scrapbooked stained glass. Andreas is dressed in a grey sweatshirt printed with a slogan about a cowboy. He has just arrived from a photo shoot where he stripped off with a smile (not for the first time, if you remember the Juergen Teller-shot campaign with Kronthaler, Westwood and Pamela Anderson). As Kronthaler speaks, it’s like he’s setting fireworks off in your head – and the colors are lovely.
But then he is inspired, surfing a creative moment. His collections have a real joy to them, filled with sexy dresses on men and women, great capes and the crumpled, rum- pled god-that’s-mega style that can only be Westwood. Their first Paris shop will be open as you’re reading this and New York is up next. What was once known as “Gold Label” is now called “Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood”. And Vivienne is very involved with the rebranding of men’s and womenswear lines, which will now be known simply as “Vivienne Westwood”. Because the name and the ideas are strong enough, like English mustard.
ANTIDOTE: You were supporting yourself as a teenager by making clothes and selling them. Were they like your designs now?
ANDREAS KRONTHALER: Probably they were something similar [laughs]. I was self-taught, aged 18 or 20, and I had a few nice ladies for who I could make anything I wanted and they’d buy it off me. I mean they wore the stuff. There was one lady who was particularly important. Sometimes they’d give me clothes and I’d change them, I used to do quite a lot of fur coats then, it was the 80s. I’m quite against that nowadays. I messed around ever such a lot, cutting things up.
ANTIDOTE: It takes a lot of confidence to cut up a fur coat.
ANDREAS KRONTHALER: Yeah, I didn’t care [laughs]. I started to sew quite a lot when I came to Vienna. Alex [Krenn], who works here with me and has done for a long, long time, we used to live together. We shared a flat, well hardly, it was only a room, with the toilet outside in the hallway. We had a tiny little table with my sewing machine here and his sewing machine there. We’d be sewing all night long, making stuff to go out in.
ANTIDOTE: This season’s collection, ‘Sexercise’, that you showed in Paris also drew on some memories.
ANDREAS KRONTHALER: It was kind of personal and autobiographical in the sense I thought about this friend of Vivienne, who is a Buddist monk. She always comes to visit us around Christmas, spending a week or two. Vivienne is very political and always wants to express her thoughts and opinions, circumstances in this world, and so I questioned myself: what I would like to say? For me I wanted to express a spiritual side I have. It’s a good look anyway! I think everyone wants to look like a yogi or a guru.
ANTIDOTE: Everyone wants to be enlightened, don’t they?
ANDREAS KRONTHALER: But it’s not easy to be enlightened, you have to work for it! Though if you put the right clothes on you’re halfway there [laughs].
ANTIDOTE: You can see in your shows that you’re really enjoying life at the moment – there is such an energetic dialogue between men and women, what’s menswear and what’s womenswear. Stuff is mixed up, thrown on with bravery and carried off with nonchalance.
ANDREAS KRONTHALER: I’ve always liked this “play”, if you look at me 20 years ago I liked to do this. I’ve always enjoyed playing with clichés. At one point I was very attracted to humor as well, I thought it was extremely important and it still is, to have an appearance that makes you happy, uplifted. Sex was important too, sexy things. You go through diffe- rent phases don’t you? You change and your work changes a little bit with it. I think that’s normal. You don’t want to be the same in your forties as you do at 25.
ANTIDOTE: Other designers too are questioning what’s masculine and what’s feminine, but it’s not done in such an upbeat way as your work.
ANDREAS KRONTHALER: I like it playful. If somebody asks me what’s my favorite thing about doing a show, it’s casting people, meeting them, talking to them. We cared a lot this time [the SS17 men’s show, presented in Milan in June], with different types of guys and girls. I think everyone looked really suited to the look they had.
ANTIDOTE: Do you enjoy seeing a model’s reaction to what they’re wearing?
ANDREAS KRONTHALER: Yes. And you choose them because of the attitude they have. There are models that are absolutely not fussed, that can wear a dress without any problem, look totally natural and don’t even think about it. It’s nothing to do with if the guy is straight or gay. I find the younger they are, the easier they are towards this: the young guys, 17/18/19 years old, are so cool, they are really together. Maybe their idols have changed a bit as well as what’s out there in the world. They’re very comfortable with themselves. The venue was huge, you could fit airplanes in there, and they’re still so cool! You know in 1991, at the Royal Albert Hall, Vivienne got the fashion designer of the year award and I was a model in the show. It was me, from the mountains, walking behind Linda [Evangelista]! I was so frightened. [Laughs].
ANTIDOTE: The “Paris” collection, Gold Label, is now called Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood – and it’s written as that on the label. What happened?
ANDREAS KRONTHALER: It was a process. It was Vivienne’s idea, as always! My name is printed half on top [of hers] on the actual label. It’s lovely and I’m happy about it. We have all these lines and we’ve been talking about going into the future and simplifying. It’s helping me and helping the company. We’re working on another one now and I’m looking forward to [seeing] it. I just want to change and I want to change myself. All of this helps you look at things in a different way.
ANTIDOTE: Has it given you a new sense of freedom?
ANDREAS KRONTHALER: It’s rejuvenated me. If you’re forced to look at things in a different way, your approach changes.
ANTIDOTE: The fabrics are so rich and lovely. And the platform boots are something else.
ANDREAS KRONTHALER: I’m sure I have a certain style. Something I learned from Vivienne very early on is that I do the things for myself first – I ask myself “would I wear it?” and if I would I’m happy. If I wouldn’t wear it, I don’t like doing it. I like very rich fabrics like silks, I always did.
ANTIDOTE: And taffeta!
ANDREAS KRONTHALER: Taffeta! Metres and metres of it. I worked on all those ball- gowns, gowns that fucking nobody needs and had such fun with it. In the early 90s they were sometimes enormous: a lady that made all our skirts once used 600 metres of tulle. It was just so big [laughs]. The whole van was filled by it when it was delivered! You had to climb into it to put it on and everyone in the studio was just laughing. The collection was called ‘Grand Hotel’ and in the end there were three of them, Winterhalter dresses inspired by the artist who painted the aristocracy of Europe in their Worth gowns. They were worn by Naomi [Campbell], Christy [Turlington] and Tatjana Patitz. And you had to be really strong because they weighed around 25 kilos. Some people couldn’t even walk in them but they were practically running [laughs]. But I wouldn’t make such clothes anymore, unless it was for a theatre production. Back then it felt right and I enjoyed it. It astonished people.
ANTIDOTE: After working together for such a long time, your language and Vivienne’s has become so entwined, which is beautiful.
ANDREAS KRONTHALER: Vivienne is my best judge, my most important help and support. What she says, I do really. She loves fashion and it’s second nature to her. She is fantastic with the body, if it’s a male body or a woman’s body, she is so respectful and always showing it to the most great advantage. If you have small tits she makes them bigger, if you have big tits she can make them look a bit smaller, she’s very precise. Vivienne can take a piece of fabric and just make something with it and it’s fantastic, whereas I need to have millions of things around me and then I dissect what I’ve made, take it apart. It can be very tiring, going through possibilities. We’re extremely happy when we do arrive. She knows me. When I’m happy, I’m happy.
ANTIDOTE: Are you going to as many protests as her?
ANDREAS KRONTHALER: When there is a big one, of course I go, but most of the time I’m here working. We quarrel sometimes because she gets the students and everyone working on the collection to go too. A week before the Paris show last season this happened, she told them they had to all go to a demonstration. I was furious, steaming! [Laughs]. In the end they were only away for three hours. But it’s very important to do it, you have to stand up for what you believe in, and fight for it even.
ANTIDOTE: When you first met in 1988, was it an instant connection?
ANDREAS KRONTHALER: Yes. It hit me right away. First she impressed me, the way she looked, I’d never seen anybody who looked like her. At that point, I didn’t know who Vivienne was exactly and for what she was so famous. I just loved the way she looked and I loved the way she spoke, the way she expressed things and what she was interested in. It was like she spoke out of my heart, out of my soul. Suddenly there’s somebody in front of you formulating everything you’ve ever thought and believed in. Dressing it up into words and suddenly you understand much more through that. She liked classical art and old things, I went to galleries and looked at old masters. Clothes talk about the human condition, it’s fascinating when you look at clothes, like Baroque or Elizabethan or whatever, you can put yourself in their shoes for a moment.
ANTIDOTE: What quality does someone need to look good in your clothes?
ANDREAS KRONTHALER: You have to feel good in yourself. I do think it’s very important not to overkill somebody, to notice their face then notice their clothes. Personality, whatever that is. Though I do like somebody nude… and maybe in a pair of shoes [laughs].
ANTIDOTE: What’s your greatest strength, would you say?
ANDREAS KRONTHALER: I don’t give up. I’m really quite energetic.
TEXT DEAN MAYO DAVIES, PUBLISHED IN FRENCH AND ENGLISH
PHOTOGRAPHY MEINKE KLEIN
AW16 PHOTOGRAPH BY JUERGEN TELLER
ANTIDOTE, AUTUMN/WINTER 2016