There are very few fashion pieces I truly envy. Among them are a set of vintage Vivienne Westwood corsets that are extremely expensive and incredibly rare these days, having been snatched up by only the most moneyed collectors or eagle-eyed vintage resellers. So color me surprised when Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Dorit Kemsley flashed one of these luxurious archival pieces on national television like it was no big deal at all.
In her confessionals for Season 11, which premiered Tuesday, Kemsley was seen in a corset from Vivienne Westwood’s FW 1990/1991 “Portrait Collection,” which contained garments depicting varying cutouts from historically significant art. Kemsley’s own corset, another of which is also on display in the Albert and Victoria Museum, shows Francois Boucher’s “Daphnis and Chloe.” The painting is based on the ancient Greek novel of the same name by Longus, written in the second century AD, and was later the supposed inspiration for The Princess Bride.
The Portrait Collection was later described by Westwood in 1996 as an attempt 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.” As fashion critic Alexander Fury wrote in 2018 for AnOther: “It summarises a philosophical approach that has produced Westwood’s very best work—colliding historical reference with contemporary culture, prurient traditional dress with provocative sexuality.”
Interesting, then, that resellers like Pechuga Vintage would help re-popularize the collection, pieces being sold and loaned out to the likes of Kourtney Kardashian and Bella Hadid. As Vogue noted in 2019, other fans of the Westwood corset included Miley Cyrus, Megan Thee Stallion, and Alexa Demie. With each new celebrity they were seen on, their resale value went up and up and up. Dorit Kemsley and her husband PK have been besieged by a slew of legal troubles these past few years, including lawsuits from former business partners. In April, the pair listed their $8 million estate—their second home above $6 million to currently be on the market.
Through an artistic lens, I’m quite obsessed with Dorit Kemsley as the modern Vivienne Westwood woman. She’s not British, although her accent on television would like to be. But there is an obvious construction to her that mimics the severe femininity of Westwood’s early designs. It’s femininity that came into a room and loudly announced itself; so obvious in its ostentatious luxeness that it couldn’t be missed if one happened to have earplugs in. The key, however, is in the farce of her presentation. There is no real Dorit Kemsley underneath, as there is no legitimate “Vivienne Westwood woman.”
She, like Westwood’s designs, is a sum of her parts, dependent on each other to make the whole lest they crumple into a pile of silk and gold.