The legendary fashion designer Dame Vivienne Westwood died on December 29, 2022 “peacefully, surrounded by her family” in Clapham, south London at the age of 81. To celebrate her extraordinary life, we looked back at some of the highlights from her trailblazing career.
Born in Derbyshire, England in 1941, Westwood moved to the greater London area with her family in 1958, where she became a primary school teacher. It was upon meeting Malcolm McLaren, her life would drastically change. The two began designing clothing together and opened a shop called Let It Rock on King’s Road in Chelsea where they sold 1950s Teddy boy inspired clothing, customized graphic T-shirts (many containing anti-establishment slogans), and fetishwear. Later renamed Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die, and most famously SEX, their boutique became a mecca for proto-punk youth.
McLaren later became the manager for The Sex Pistols and Westwood’s designs for the band defined 70’s UK punk style. Westwood became known as ‘The Godmother of Punk’ for shaping the look of this era, and their partnership became a crucial influence on the 1970s punk movement.
“I didn’t consider myself a fashion designer at all at the time of punk. I was just using fashion as a way to express my resistance and to be rebellious. I came from the country, and by the time I got to London, I considered myself to be very stupid. It was my ambition to understand the world I live in.”
After her partnership with McLaren ended, she began her solo career designing collections under her own name. Never losing her rebellious punk spirit, Westwood created a distinct style fusing traditional British fashion, religion, and sexuality, establishing herself in the fashion world as a provocateur.
“The only reason I’m in fashion is to destroy the word conformity.”
With her reinvention of classical British style, Westwood became known for one historical undergarment in particular – the corset. Once a dated contraption responsible for shaping (or torturing) a woman’s body to meet society’s standards of beauty at the time and having an insurgence in the 50s and 60s, the corset had never been worn as a piece of outerwear. Until Westwood’s iconic ‘Stature of Liberty’ corset was unveiled, instantly becoming a house signature.
Next comes the Time Machine collection in 1988 where Westwood used the image of François Boucher’s “Shepherd Watching a Sleeping Shepherdess” across the front of her Stature of Liberty corset. Alas- The Boucher corset was born – becoming one of her most famous designs.
The corset returned each season in new and limited editions and the combination of the corset, platform shoes, and a Victorian-style crinoline mini-skirt (named the Mini-Crini) became her hallmark.
Aside from being a fashion icon, Westwood spent her life as an outspoken advocate for environmental and human rights issues. Westwood consistently used her runways as a place to protest and used her platform to launch campaigns to spread awareness – once driving a tank to the former Prime Minister of England Dave Cameron’s constituency home in protest of government fracking.
“The main message of Climate Revolution is that climate change is caused by the rotten financial system we’ve got, designed to create poverty and rip off any profits for a small amount of rich people. Meanwhile, it destroys the earth.”
A non-conformist, a rebel, a role model and an inspiration, Dame Vivienne Westwood redefined what the world thought of fashion designers. In an industry swarming with frivolous spending and over-consumption, Westwood famously told her fans to “Buy less, choose well.” A true cultural icon, her legacy will be felt for many generations to come.
“I just think people should invest in the world. Don’t invest in fashion, but invest in the world.”