Vivienne Westwood sports a money print dress for her catwalk show

Dame Vivienne trawls the past for inspiration

Dame Vivienne Westwood remains, at 71, one of only a few designers at the height of her profession who is fully in control of her own, spectacularly successful and globally recognised label. And so, with the fashion establishment currently more than a little preoccupied with which particular designer will end up presiding over which particular grand name – both Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent have yet to confirm their creative directors – it was good to see this hugely influential name take to the catwalk in Paris yesterday and parade a style that is unmistakably her own.

The collection was called London – ironic perhaps, given that Westwood shows her second line in that city but stages the main event, Vivienne Westwood Gold Label, in the French capital. "I decided to call it London," Westwood stated. "I knew Andreas [Kronthaler, her husband and creative partner] would like it because to him it would be clear and simple and he loves London."

In fact, Westwood's principal inspiration was "heroes"; she's been clothing them for more than 30 years, after all. "Looking back at the heroes of the past they look so incredible in their clothes – artists, intellectuals, scientists, cultivated people." She'd also been thinking of the 17th century, she said. "A century of great change and drama, it was the age of the amateur and of the rugged individualist and adventurer. In this century, the British forged their national identity."

All of this ultimately translated into the wasp-waisted, strong-shouldered Harris tweed and tartan tailoring, overblown ball gowns and jewel-encrusted corsetry. Less obviously indebted to the historical theme were fine-gauge knitted long johns with buttons up the back, a one-legged silver body stocking and a model in a pastel pink marabou chubby coat who cycled down the catwalk to witty effect.

Never one to miss the chance to bang a political drum, Westwood's show notes said: "We would like to ask, 'Can London switch off the lights that are left on all night in empty buildings and therefore help stop climate change?'" Backstage, Ms Westwood added: "That way we would see more stars."

At the end of the show, Westwood came to take her bows in a silk dress printed with money. "Fashion spins money," she said: "My motto is buy less, choose well and make it last."

Earlier, Viktor & Rolf's collection was a rather less upbeat affair. Theirs was a woman who transformed into a lupine creature of the night. But her fluid silk pyjamas, dresses sprouting tufts of mink and, finally, full-on fur coats failed to inspire.