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Saturday, April 5, 2008

Haidee Findlay-Levin puts on her detective hat...

Recently I had a dinner with Malcolm McLaren and his girlfriend Young Kim, as well as Gene Krell, the features editor of Vogue Asia and two other of Malcolm's friends. The conversation was highly entertaining, as it always is in the company of Malcolm or Gene. In fact, I imagine the two of them could be fantastic talk show hosts, jumping from subject to subject, from past to present, regaling everyone with fantastic anecdotes from their rowdy youth.

But one story really stuck with me, so much so that I pressed Malcolm for more details when I saw him again last weekend. Given my current obsession with publishing (increasingly a lost art), I asked about a particular book he had mentioned at dinner, one that showcased one of the most comprehensive collections of the famed Seditionaries collection that he and Vivienne Westwood designed in the mid-1970s. He later showed me the book and it truly is a special object, each garment exquisitely photographed on a flat surface and perfectly curated, from graphic T-shirts to a variety of multi-colored mohair sweaters, Peter Pan-collared shirts, fat ties and, inevitably, bondage trousers. There is no title or text of any kind, just a simple black cotton slipcover and a small edition number printed on the back. Malcolm is naturally pleased with the book and impressed with the vastness of the oeuvre depicted. He couldn’t think of anyone who had bought that many pieces, except possibly Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto, who would come together to his and Vivienne's store, SEX, and buy one of each style of their punk and bondage clothing. Though the book's author is uncredited, Malcolm says it was put together with his knowledge and blessing by DJ and sometime streetwear designer Hiroshi Fujiwara, probably in collaboration with Jun Takahashi of Undercover.

Not long ago, Malcolm was asked to write the foreword—and did—to another book, this one compiled and self-published by London-based collector and dealer Simon Easton, who supplies Seditionaries to a variety of vintage stores around the world. He also loaned pieces to the Met's Anglomania exhibit two years ago on the eyebrow-raising condition that he be referred to only as Simon.

Here’s where it gets thick. More recently, Malcolm says he got a call from Damien Hirst, who apparently spent £80,000 on what he thought were original Seditionaries pieces, bought from the very same Simon Easton. Suspicious they may be fakes, Damien showed some of it to London vintage store Relick, renowned for its selection of Westwood, but alas, no confirmation. Damien also asked Kate Moss (I guess famous for wearing the stuff, though hardly an authority on it), but she, too, said she couldn’t be sure. Eventually he called Malcolm and asked him to verify the pieces' authenticity. Malcolm looked at the images he was sent and said he was certain they were not his work, but that they might have been something that Vivienne had created later on or had given permission to her team to rework. Malcolm did, however, feel what he was looking at had the fingerprints of someone young, and perhaps not one person. Damien—naturally furious at the prospect of being conned, whether he could afford to be or not—is talking with his lawyer and wants to use Malcolm's assessment in a lawsuit against Simon.

If fakes are being made, and it hasn't been proven, then it certainly raises questions about the veracity of other pieces coming from Simon. According to Malcolm, the well-regarded New York vintage store What Comes Around Goes Around unwittingly sold such knock-offs, either directly or indirectly from Simon. Which reminds me of an ex-roommate of a friend of mine in London who used to sell vintage Westwood. She had previously worked for Westwood and would keep me entertained with stories and impressions of her. I recall her asking me if I knew the store What Comes Around Goes Around in New York and to vouch for its high standards, which I did—and I do remember her mentioning that there was another man involved. At any rate, if true, it's a shame that such a respected shop could be victimized.

Another regrettable outcome of all of this is that now every Seditionaries credit comes into question. Just last week I was doing research in the London library of Condé Nast and came across an editorial in a current British Vogue featuring punk clothes with this credit: ”from the Seditionaries collection of Simon Easton." Of course I wondered if this were a dupe. After all, there weren’t many of these clothes made in the first place and those who were originally buying them were surely not saving them for posterity, but were rather performing or partying hard in them, as any true anarchist would.

Damien further told Malcolm that there is or was a small ring of Central St Martins students making these copies of Seditionaries, and that they were hired by a man who intimidated them into staying quiet about it. The alleged ringleader? Simon Easton. [Calls to Simon have not been returned.]

To add insult to injury, Malcolm finally received Simon’s self-published book, "Sex and Seditionaries," for which he had written the foreword. According to Malcolm, it's a poor imitation of Fujiwara's limited-edition book, with a cluttered layout and, in place of the black cotton slipcover, an image of pornographic playing cards similar to those sold at SEX. Worst of all, and this is where the mohair wool was really pulled over Malcolm’s eyes, he says it showcases a selection of knock-offs, which now, ironically, appear to be authenticated by him.

This wouldn't be the first time Seditionaries clothes were knocked off—a search on eBay will confirm this. So the next time someone tries to flog original Seditionaries to you, you'll want to do some serious homework first. And if you've already been suckered, I hope you find comfort in knowing you're not alone.

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