The iconoclastic British designer rose to fame dressing the Sex Pistols when punk took off in the 1970s.
Remembering Vivienne Westwood: ‘The rebel who was never without a cause’
His life and career – in pictures
Dame Vivienne Westwood, the pioneering British fashion designer who played a key role in the punk movement, has died in London at the age of 81.
Westwood died “peacefully, surrounded by her family” in Clapham, south London, on Thursday, her representatives said in a statement. He continued to do the things he loved, including designing, working on his book and making art “until the last moment,” they added.
Her husband and creative partner Andreas Kronthaler said: “I will continue to hold Vivienne in my heart. We have been working to the end and she has given me a lot to keep going. Thanks sweetie.”
Born in Tintwistle, near the town of Glossop, Derbyshire, in 1941, Westwood moved with her family to London in 1957, where she attended art school for one term. A self-taught designer with no formal fashion training, Westwood learned to make clothes as a teenager by following patterns and tearing apart second-hand clothes she found in markets to understand cut and construction.
She met band manager Malcolm McLaren in the 1960s while working as a primary school teacher after separating from her first husband, Derek Westwood. The couple opened a small shop on Kings Road in Chelsea in 1971 which became a haunt of many of the bands they outfitted, including the Sex Pistols, who were managed by McLaren.
Her provocative and sometimes controversial designs came to define the punk aesthetic, and Westwood would go on to become one of Britain’s most celebrated fashion designers, blending historical references, classic tailoring, and romantic flourishes with harsher, and at times, messages. , openly political.
The Westwood and McLaren outlet changed its name and focus several times, including rebranding as Sex (the pair were fined in 1975 for “indecent display” there), as well as Worlds End and Seditionaries.
Westwood’s first show, in 1981, for her Pirates collection, was an important step for the punk rebel to become one of the most celebrated stars in the fashion world. But she still found ways to surprise: her Statue of Liberty corset in 1987 is considered to have started the “underwear as outerwear” trend.
Even as Westwood’s design empire grew into a multimillion-dollar business, the designer never lost her activist streak. In 1989, she posed for the cover of Tatler magazine dressed as Margaret Thatcher, with a caption that read: “This woman was once a punk.” He later told Dazed Digital: “Margaret Thatcher had ordered the suit she was wearing from Aquascutum, but then she cancelled.”
From his early punk days, Westwood remixed and inverted images drawn from the British monarchy. When she was awarded an Order of the British Empire medal in 1992, the designer wore a sober gray skirt suit to accept the honor from Queen Elizabeth II. Outside Buckingham Palace, she twirled the waiting photographers, revealing to everyone that she hadn’t been wearing any panties.
Westwood was invited in 2006 to receive the even more auspicious designation of Dame Commander of the British Empire.
In the mid-2000s, Westwood turned his political attention to the climate crisis. In 2007, he published a manifesto titled Active Resistance to Propaganda, in which he wrote: “We have a choice: to become more educated and therefore more human, or not to choose, to be the destructive and self-destructive animal, the victim of our own cunning (To be or not to be).”
As an anti-consumerist, Westwood gleefully undermined his own business interests. In 2010, he told AAP: “I just tell people to stop buying clothes. Why not protect this gift of life while we have it? I don’t take the attitude that destruction is inevitable. Some of us would like to stop that and help people survive.”