Original and outrageous, British designer Vivienne Westwood is one of the most recognised and influential designers of the late twentieth century.
By her mid-twenties, Vivienne Westwood’s life seemed to be passing in a distinctly unremarkable way. At 25, she was married to an air steward, she lived in Willesden, went to church and taught in a local primary school.
Then something remarkable happened – she met Malcolm McLaren, future manager of The Sex Pistols, and he led her into the underground of the late 1960’s street. He lectured her on the political power of art and liberated her creative desires from their bondage in working-class conformity. Westwood became a subversive seamstress of pop.
Her first designs hung in a shop called ‘Let it Rock’ on the King’s Road in 1971.
Five years later, the boutique, now named ‘Sex’, sold ripped T-shirts, chains and assorted bondage gear and Westwood was dressing Johnny Rotten and The Sex Pistols.
The punk storm drove Westwood before it, putting her at the forefront of street culture but, as the drugs wore off and the hangover kicked in, Westwood was left thinking “what next?”
Pirates were the answer. The early 1980s was the time of the New Romantics, an urban arts scene that eschewed gender-distinctive dress to delight in the theatre of courtier costume and whirls of eyeliner.
Catching their mood, Westwood looked back to the 19th Century for her first collection, which she called ‘Pirates’.
With ‘Pirates’, Westwood’s success was secured. She showed in Paris in 1983 and never looked back.
In the 1990s, her interest shifted into haute couture and she extensively used British wools, tartans, tweeds and linens.
She was twice named British designer of the year and was awarded an OBE. She was made a Dame for services to fashion in 2006.
Westwood passed away on 29 December 2022 in Clapham, South London, aged 81.