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Hey big spender: Never mind the tabloid tales - Viv Nicholson defines 1960s chic


Viv Nicholson. You've either no idea who I'm going on about, or no idea why I'm going on about her, especially on the fashion pages. In 1961, Viv won £152,300, 18 shillings, and 8 pence – the equivalent of a cool £3m today – on the football pools. When the press asked Viv what she planned to do with the money, she famously declared "Spend, spend, spend". That epithet became Viv's epitaph: it's also the title of her autobiography, a musical based on said tome, and an EP penned by her brother.

That's all bizarre tabloid fodder, but why does it guarantee Viv a place on anyone's stylistic moodboard? Well, for starters, in 1988 Morrissey plucked her from the obscure, yellow-journalism celebrity of Daily Sport headlines and smacked her bang on the cover of The Smiths' latest single. The title? "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now". Viv was miserable because she had put her money where her mouth was, and spent, spent, spent the lot, blowing through her new-found fortune in five years. She ended up in a strip club singing "Big Spender" – the kind of scene even the Sport couldn't make up.

That mood of feckless extravagance was out-of-step with Britain in the early Sixties, where wartime austerity measures and rationing had barely ceased (the latter only ended in 1954). It was also, ironically, out of kilter with the late Eighties, a Britain rapidly entering recession after yuppie excesses that gave Viv a run for her money. And the mood of feckless extravagance her name conjures is, of course, anathema to our times, not only the cash-splashing but the deliberately decadent nouveau richery of it all. Viv Nicholson was the Kim Kardashian of her time.

But Viv looked much better than Kim ever has. She was the quintessential dolly bird, with hairspray-teased beehive and hip-hugging pencil skirt, that odd bridge where the Fifties and Sixties meet. It's a moment that feels right for today, referenced for autumn/winter 2013 by designers ranging from Miu Miu to Jonathan Saunders to Gucci. It'll be popping up at M&S and Topshop, too, in case your budget is more pre than post-pools. Danish designer Peter Jensen didn't just reference the era, but dedicated his autumn/winter 2013 collection to Nicholson – he titled it 'Viv', opening it with a dead-ringer for her oversized overcoat and backcombed bouffant on that Smiths cover. And what did Jensen print on his sweaters? 'Spend, Spend, Spend'.

How did Peter meet Viv? "My friend gave me The Smiths 12-inch for my birthday in 1988," he recalls. "I remember – and I'm not making this up – thinking she looks chic, she looks like someone that could be in a John Waters film. I love the way she looks in the picture… I think she looked like a nice lady, somebody that you would have liked to have known at that time. That is fashion to me." It's not all about Spend, Spend, Spend, after all.

Alexander Fury is Fashion Editor of 'The Independent'