Promo sample from Ben Westwood's Clint Eastwood-inspired collection. Photo: Rodney Westwood
Show Hide image

Ben Westwood recruits Julian Assange to model his latest fashion collection

Dame Vivienne's son will give the Wikileaks founder his modelling debut.

For the past two years Julian Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy, avoiding his extradition to Sweden where he is wanted for questioning regarding alleged sexual offences. Yet it seems his confinement has diversified the scope of his extracurricular activities.

Fashion designer Ben Westwood, eldest son of Dame Vivienne, has recently announced plans to enlist the Wikileaks founder to model his latest collection at London Fashion Week in September 2014. The show will take place as a fringe event, located in the Ecuadorian Embassy itself.

Claiming Assange as inspiration for his Clint Eastwood/Spaghetti Western-themed collection, Westwood has stood by his decision: "I can't think of anyone better to model my clothes. He is a good looking man."

Despite his reclusion, Assange has maintained an enigmatic presence in the media. Last year saw him as the subject of a Disney-funded Hollywood flop The Fifth Estate, being portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch. In an interview with the Telegraph Assange detailed his domestic life in the embassy, and frequent contact with celebrity visitors including Yoko Ono, Maggie Gyllenhaal and the rapper M.I.A.

This latest revelation from Westwood confirms the Wikileaks founder as an object of fascination in the public imagination. Westwood describes him as a “hero” who has “done a great deal to change public opinion”.

By identifying the Wikileaks founder as his muse, Westwood suggests the catwalk could aid Assange's campaign: "I want to highlight Julian Assange's plight. What happened to him is totally unfair." With regard to the allegations from 2010, Westwood states: "They're just allegations and no proof has been presented... He's innocent until proven guilty.”

According to the designer it is “a citizen's duty to stand up for justice and freedom of speech." A duty which, evidently, can manifest in the form of fashion.

Previews from the collection involve camouflage prints and combat gear modelled stylishly against rocky mountain terrains. The unisex garments create a militaristic chic: the connotations of warfare and violence surgically amputated by their status as fashion.

Joined by six other models, Assange will take to the embassy-based catwalk in September, accompanied by music from the film The Good, The Bad And The Ugly. The show has already garnered much attention and will host a diverse range of guests. George Clooney and his fiancée Amal Alamuddin, part of Assange’s defense team, are amongst those invited. 

Gallery Stock
Show Hide image

Beware of tea: the cuppa has started wars and ruined lives

. . . and it once led F Scott Fitzgerald to humiliate himself.

A drink sustains me – one that steams companionably as I write. It is hot, amber and fragranced differently from any wine; nor does it have wine’s capacity to soften and blur. I’ve never understood how the great drunks of literature, Ernest Hemingway, F Scott Fitzgerald and their like, ever put anything on the page more worthwhile than a self-involved howl, though even Hemingway apparently finished the day’s writing before beginning the day’s drinking.

Tea is more kindly, or so I’d always thought. Those aromatic leaves, black or green, rolled and dried and oxidised, have some of wine’s artistry but none of its danger. Even their exoticism has waned, from a Chinese rarity (“froth of the liquid jade”), for which 17th-century English traders were made to pay in solid silver, to a product that can be found dirt cheap on supermarket shelves.

There are even home-grown teas now. The Tregothnan estate in Cornwall has supplemented its ornamental rhododendrons and camellias with their relative camellia sinensis, the tea plant, while Dalreoch in the Scottish Highlands grows a white (that is, lightly oxidised) tea, which is smoked using wood from the surrounding birch plantations. Tellingly, this local version is priced as steeply as the imported rarity once was.

I enjoy a simple, solitary mug, but I also appreciate communal tea-drinking – the delicate tea warmed with water at 85°C (a little higher for sturdier black blends), the teapot and china, the pourer volunteering to be “mother”, as if this were a liquid that could nurture. But in reality, tea is not so gentle.

Those long-ago English traders disliked haemorrhaging silver, so they started exporting opium to China from India and paying with that. This was a fabulous success, unless you happened to be Chinese. In 1839, a commissioner attempted to clamp down on the illegal and harmful trade, and the result was the Opium Wars, which the Chinese lost. “Gunboat diplomacy” – a phrase that surely constitutes froth of a different kind – won England a great deal of silver, a 150-year lease on Hong Kong and an open tea market. China received a potful of humiliation that may eventually have helped spark the Communist Revolution. As many of us have recently realised, there is nothing like economic mortification to galvanise a nation to kick its leaders.

Later, the tea bush was planted in India, Ceylon and elsewhere, and the fragrant but bitter brew for the upper classes became a ubiquitous fuel. But not an entirely sweet one: just as the opium trade ensured our tea’s arrival in the pot, the slave trade sweetened it in the cup. Even today, conditions for tea workers in places such as Assam in north-east India are often appalling.

Scott Fitzgerald also had tea trouble. When invited round by Edith Wharton, he frothed the liquid jade so assiduously with booze beforehand and risqué conversation during (a story about an American tourist couple staying unawares in a Paris bordello) that he was nearly as badly humiliated as those 19th-century Chinese. Wharton, unshocked, merely wondered aloud what the couple had done in the bordello and afterwards pronounced the entire occasion “awful”.

Some would blame his alcoholic preliminaries, but I’m not so sure. Tea has started wars and ruined lives; we should be wary of its consolations. On that sober note, I reach for the corkscrew and allow the subject to drive me softly, beguilingly, to drink.

Nina Caplan is the 2014 Fortnum & Mason Drink Writer of the Year and 2014 Louis Roederer International Wine Columnist of the Year for her columns on drink in the New Statesman. She tweets as @NinaCaplan.

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

0800 7318496