Ben Westwood, son of the great British punk fashion designer Dame Vivienne Westwood, is… a fashion designer. But before he was a fashion designer, he was a photographer specializing in erotic and fetish imagery.
His main objective as a photographer was to express his sexuality through his art. As well as enjoying the pictures he created, and hoping he provided similar enjoyment for others, his serious purpose was to stand up for alternative and ‘kinky’ preferences against a cultural and political establishment that still seeks to prescribe and enforce sexual norms. It was a profoundly humane agenda, based in the compassionate recognition that sexual tastes, including unconventional ones, are not a choice and so not something that may rightfully be rebuked by ‘straight’ society:
One’s sexuality is just ‘there’, you are born with it; the same as if you think the colour red suits you more than blue does. There is no right or wrong, just choices, and people are all different, not the same thankfully.
So he campaigned for freedom of expression in sexual matters, and in 2008 memorably staged a ‘bondage demonstration’ outside Parliament to protest newly draconian censorship laws that were to come into force the following year.
What he wanted, he explained, was to move kink out of the closet:
I want people to accept these images in a more mainstream way, give them the chance to see that it’s not about exploitation and sordidness if it’s mutual and consensual; it’s actually fun and glamorous and a literal bond of trust.
But he later recognized that his work, life-affirming and positive though it was, would never be more than ‘niche’. And that was one reason why he made the move across to menswear. Luckily for us, before doing so he made a contribution to our particular ‘niche’:
Do visit Ben Westwood’s website if you’re interested in him or his clothing range – but bear in mind that his days as an erotic photographer are largely behind him.