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

DE AGOSTINI PICTURE LIBRARY / BRIDGEMAN IMAGES
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Eighty pages in to Age of Anger, I still had no idea what it was about

When Pankaj Mishra describes a “postmodern collage rather than a coherent doctrine”, he inadvertently summarises his own book.

Most books arrive on the market dragging a comet tail of context: the press release, the blurb on the back, the comparison with another book that sold well (sometimes this is baked into the title, as with a spate of novels in which grown women were recast as “girls”, variously gone, or on the train, or with dragon tattoos or pearl earrings). Before you even start reading, you know pretty much what you will get.

So I was particularly disconcerted to reach page 80 of Pankaj Mishra’s Age of Anger and realise that I didn’t really know what it was about. The prologue starts with a recap of the tyrannical career of the Italian poet Gabriele D’Annunzio, namechecks The Communist Manifesto, describes how Europeans were enthralled by Napoleon’s “quasi-autistic machismo”, links this to the “great euphoria” experienced in 1914, mentions that Eugene Onegin “wears a tony ‘Bolívar’ hat”, then dwells on Rimbaud’s belief that not washing made him a better writer, before returning to D’Annunzio to conclude that his life “crystallised many themes of our own global ferment as well as those of his spiritually agitated epoch”.

Psychologists have demonstrated that the maximum number of things that a human can hold in their brain is about seven. The prologue is titled “Forgotten Conjunctures”. I might know why they have been forgotten.

Two pages later, Mishra is at it again. How’s this for a paragraph?

After all, Maxim Gorky, the Bolshevik, Muhammad Iqbal, the poet-advocate of “pure” Islam, Martin Buber, the exponent of the “New Jew”, and Lu Xun, the campaigner for a “New Life” in China, as well as D’Annunzio, were all devotees of Nietzsche. Asian anti-imperialists and American robber barons borrowed equally eagerly from the 19th-century polymath Herbert Spencer, the first truly global thinker – who, after reading Darwin, coined the term “survival of the fittest”. Hitler revered Atatürk (literally “the father of the Turks”) as his guru; Lenin and Gramsci were keen on Taylorism, or “Americanism”; American New Dealers later borrowed from Mussolini’s “corporatism”.

This continues throughout. The dizzying whirl of names began to remind me of Wendy Cope’s “Waste Land Limericks”: “No water. Dry rocks and dry throats/Then thunder, a shower of quotes/From the Sanskrit and Dante./Da. Damyata. Shantih./I hope you’ll make sense of the notes.”

The trouble comes because Mishra has set himself an enormous subject: explaining why the modern world, from London to Mumbai and Mosul, is like it is. But the risk of writing about everything is that one can end up writing about nothing. (Hang on, I think I might be echoing someone here. Perhaps this prose style is contagious. As Nietzsche probably wrote.) Too often, the sheer mass of Mishra’s reading list obscures the narrative connective tissue that should make sense of his disparate examples.

By the halfway point, wondering if I was just too thick to understand it, I did something I don’t normally do and read some other reviews. One recorded approvingly that Mishra’s “vision is . . . resistant to categorisation”. That feels like Reviewer Code to me.

His central thesis is that the current “age of anger” – demonstrated by the rise of Islamic State and right-wing nationalism across Europe and the US – is best understood by looking at the 18th century. Mishra invokes the concept of “ressentiment”, or projecting resentment on to an external enemy; and the emergence of the “clash of civilisations” narrative, once used to justify imperialism (“We’re bringing order to the natives”) and now used to turn Islamic extremism from a political challenge into an existential threat to the West.

It is on the latter subject that Mishra is most readable. He grew up in “semi-rural India” and now lives between London and Shimla; his prose hums with energy when he feels that he is writing against a dominant paradigm. His skirmish with Niall Ferguson over the latter’s Civilisation: the West and the Rest in the London Review of Books in 2011 was highly enjoyable, and there are echoes of that fire here. For centuries, the West has presumed to impose a narrative on the developing world. Some of its current anxiety and its flirtation with white nationalism springs from the other half of the globe talking back.

On the subject of half of us getting a raw deal, this is unequivocally a history of men. We read about Flaubert and Baudelaire “spinning dreams of virility”, Gorky’s attachment to the idea of a “New Man” and the cultural anxieties of (male) terrorists. Poor Madame de Staël sometimes seems like the only woman who ever wrote a book.

And yet, in a book devoted to unpicking hidden connections, the role of masculinity in rage and violence is merely noted again and again without being explored. “Many intelligent young men . . . were breaking their heads against the prison walls of their societies” in the 19th century, we learn. Might it not be interesting to ask whether their mothers, sisters and daughters were doing the same? And if not, why?

Mishra ends with the present, an atomised, alienated world of social media and Kim Kardashian. Isis, we are told, “offers a postmodern collage rather than a coherent doctrine”. That is also a good description of this book. 

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era