Fashion giants of Milan braced for culture clash with Dame Vivienne

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The Independent Online

As culture clashes go, it is a bit like inviting Iggy Pop to play the Proms or Damien Hirst to hold a retrospective at the Louvre. The great and the immaculately-clad of the fashion world will gather in Milan this week to show off their wares amid an exhibition of the work of Britain's most iconoclastic couturier, Vivienne Westwood.

The eye-catching array of 150 of the 66-year-old designer's garments and accessories, complete with spike heels and bondage-inspired dresses, will go on display at the heart of Italy's fashion capital, where the accent is on the safer and more commercial end of the rag trade in contrast to Westwood's lifelong mission to shock and provoke her catwalk audiences.

While Giorgio Armani will today kick off the Milan Fashion Week with a show of his collection for next spring and summer, visitors will be arriving at the neo-classical splendour of the city's Palazzo Reale Museum to examine the work of the British designer forever associated with the tartan, safety pins and luminous hair styles of the punk movement.

The exhibition comes as Milan seeks to reassert its status as the fashion capital of the word in the face of a strong challenge from London, where the spring and summer shows last week were widely held to have proved the capital's role as a hotbed for innovation and new talent.

Around 80 designers will show in Milan, including big names like Versace and Dolce & Gabbana, amid evidence of the ever-widening grasp of designer brands. Armani announced yesterday that it had struck a deal with Korean electronics giant Samsung to produce a range of branded mobile phones.

The Westwood show is the only Italian stop on a worldwide tour for the exhibition, which was first shown to critical acclaim at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 2004.

Although Westwood, who was made a Dame last year and turned up to her investiture wearing silver horns, blue eyeliner and no knickers, has a shop in Milan, she normally shows her collections in Paris, eschewing the Italian city's preference for more self-consciously stylish and conventional styles of the fashion world's biggest brands.

The event coincides with a revival in popular interest in Westwood and her work. A biopic is being developed by Oscar-winning producer Brian Grazer which is expected to look at the former primary school teacher's marriage to Malcolm McLaren, the Sex Pistols' manager and architect of the punk movement.

The period in the early 1970s when Westwood opened her shop on the King's Road is widely considered her most influential. But she has continued to extend her influence, famously using historical techniques, such as Victorian corsetry or Georgian tailoring, to create modern classics including her "faux cul" bustles to accentuate the backside and the 10-inch platform shoes which caused Naomi Campbell to topple on the catwalk.