She's associated with punk glamour and is one of Britain's leading fashion names, but Dame Vivienne Westwood was in Birmingham last night to promote not a clothes range but human rights.


Human rights have been regarded, for some time, as a cause celebre. Something for other people to worry about.

When Birmingham father-of-four Moazzam Begg was being detained in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, the cries of protest may have subsided quicker than perhaps they should.

Last night two of the biggest names in British fashion gave their own slant on helping others at the launch of a new human rights charity, Humanade.

Dame Vivienne Westwood brought a touch of eccentricity and glamour to its official launch at Birmingham Town Hall, which she attended to support her son Joseph Corre, founder of lingerie firm Agent Provocateur.

Mr Corre has joined forces with Birmingham-based accountancy firm Wenham Major, which has agreed to support the charity's chosen projects with annual donations of £100,000.

Dame Vivienne - who wore a stunning vintage claret lace dress festooned with safety pins and badges with a pair of vertigo inducing platform shoes - said human rights were "my number one priority".

The designer, who last week showed her Red Label collection at London Fashion Week for the first time since 1999, has always been a passionate campaigner for the organisation Liberty.

"Human rights are the keystone of democracy, they're the cornerstone of civilisation and it's the first thing we want to fight for, justice before the law, but if we lose that then we really will have anarchy in the UK and the rest of the world," she said.

"It's very critical at the moment as the world is going to enter an environment of terror and collapse, regarding all the ongoing ecological issues, and if we don't do something it's just going to get worse and worse.

"This human rights charity is about getting people out of jail who are illegally imprisoned in places like Guantanamo Bay. I'm very proud of my son for getting this charity together, I think it's lovely.

"I'm getting to be known a bit as someone who fights for human rights, it's my number one priority. It can't be a great feeling, going to be executed knowing you're not guilty, which is where charities like Humanade come in."

The grand dame of British fashion is modest and frank enough to acknowledge she has "a very lucky and lovely life" and feels she has a duty to help others who are not as fortunate.

Humanade, which is based in Birmingham, was the brainchild of Mr Corre and John Edwards, director of Wenham Major.

Mr Corre, Dame Vivienne's son with Malcolm McLaren, said the charity's first move was to fund Reprieve's Next Friend initiative, which allows friends or near relatives to launch appeals on behalf of a prisoner.

"I feel very strongly that we shouldn't forget about those who fought very hard for us to have these human rights, which is why they should be upheld vigorously," he said.

"People who are being kept outside the law, in places like Guantanamo, need access to effective legal representation which is not regarded as a right in some countries.

"Businesses have traditionally shied away from the challenges presented by human rights issues. If companies still refuse to support other Humanade events, then maybe we will name and shame them.

"There's no benefit in saying we won't work with certain countries over their stance on human rights, such as China. Once you start to do that you soon realise there aren't many you can work with or sell your products."

The lingerie designer said his firm was already working with businesses in Morocco to set up a refuge for women left destitute when their husbands walk out on them.

"This is not about us looking for the best price, or selling cheap products at a huge profit, it's about taking social responsibility seriously."

Mr Edwards admitted it had been hard selling tables at the gala, with numerous companies refusing to support an event aimed at highlighting human rights.

He said: "I was shocked by the response we got from some companies who said they didn't want to come because it was for a human rights organisation, and not sick children or something soft and cuddly.

Diners at the gala were able to bid for luxury lots, including the chance to model for Vivienne and five days cricket training with the Pakistan team, set to raise thousands for the new charity.

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