Dame Vivienne Westwood, the designer hailed as “the undisputed queen of British fashion”, has died at the age of 81. She passed away “peacefully and surrounded by her family” yesterday in Clapham, according to a representative for her fashion house.
Westwood was known for her punk fashion creations and even more punk spirit. She was the designer who made a political slogan a sensation in the UK, the lady who took her OBE without panties, and the Londoner who could always be spotted cycling around the capital in impeccable style – a daily representation of her staunch climate activism.
From his humble beginnings to his unlikely friendship with Julian Assange, this is a look back at the life and work of London’s ‘Dame Punk’.
A working class girl with a creative dream
Westwood was both an activist and a designer. Born Vivienne Isabel Swire, she first came into the creative world as a teenager when she enrolled in a Jewelery and Goldsmithing course at Harrow Art School, now known as the University of Westminster.
Despite excelling in the course (she took her art and sold it at the Portobello market), Westwood was discouraged by this area: “I didn’t know how a working-class girl like me could make a living in the art world,” she thought a few years later .
Instead, she decided to qualify as a secretary and became a primary school teacher, which she enjoyed (‘except that I’ve always liked children, whom everyone else thought were a pain in the ass. Little rebels,’ she told The Guardian in 2007. ) — though that wasn’t enough to fill the gap that creativity had opened.
Revolt because of
When she turned 20, the young rebel met her first husband, Derek Westwood, the man responsible for turning Vivienne Swire into Vivienne Westwood, at least in name. His surname became her surname, and the designer retained this nickname for the next two marriages, after the breakup of her marriage with her first husband. The couple was married for three years and had a son, Benjamin Westwood, but separated after Vivienne met the man who would become her second husband: Sex Pistols manager Malcom McLaren.
He and Westwood worked together to set up a boutique on King’s Road, Let It Rock, selling 1950s memorabilia, plush boys’ pants, mohair sweaters and several items designed by McLaren but made by Westwood. Eventually, Westwood began designing herself and McLaren began outfitting members of the Sex Pistols with their creations, which attracted the attention of the budding fashion designer.
In 1981, Westwood and McLaren designed their first “Pirates” collection, which continues to make a runway impact 40 years after its debut. This collaborative collection firmly entrenched Westwood in the fashion world and has never left since that day.
Unruliness and OOBE
Westwood has become one of the biggest names in British fashion, winning British Fashion Designer of the Year three times – in 1990, 1991 and 2006 – and was awarded for her contribution to fashion by the Queen in 1992, where she collected her OBE without underwear. “I wanted to show off my outfit by tucking up my skirt,” she said of the celebratory photos that had to be blurred out: “It never occurred to me that since the photographers were practically on their knees, the result would be more charming than I expected.
Westwood was mostly unruly. In fact, it was the word Westwood sewed into Stella Morris’ wedding veil as she prepared to marry imprisoned activist and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Assange’s imprisonment and extradition was a matter close to Westwood’s heart, and the two were close friends.
She had previously demonstrated this by posing in a cage with human birds, dressed in canary yellow, waving a sign saying “I am Julian Assange” outside the Old Bailey Criminal Courts. But when Assange decided to marry his longtime partner and mother of two, Stella Morris, Westwood wanted to help in a more delicate way — by designing Morris’s wedding dress.
“[Vivienne] arrived for Julian’s 40th birthday while he was under house arrest […] and started an amazing friendship,” Morris told the Evening Standard after Westwood’s death. “They love each other’s company. She was incredibly intelligent and creative and was constantly thinking about what she could do to the world, what to do about Julian’s imprisonment, about climate change. She was always brainstorming… and was a lot of fun.”
Moris worked with Westwood and her husband Andreas Kronthaler to create the dress she would wear for her wedding to Assange, which took place at HMP Belmarsh in March 2022. “I went to their bridal shop and we sat down and talked about what it was like.” . in prison – that was the starting point – and what we could have done and what was possible.”
It was supposed to be a wedding dress like no other. Westwood changed the traditional underwire of the corset to be made of an alternative material instead of regular metal so that it could pass prison metal detectors. She also added a rose on her chest to represent the bouquet of flowers as Morris was not allowed to take the bouquet by prison security. And on the veil she embroidered words written by Julian Assange in the handwriting of his and Morris’s loved ones, including one word added by Westwood herself: unruly.
Today, Assange himself made a rare statement to mark the death of his friend, calling her “Britain’s best”. Speaking from Belmarsh, the activist said: “Vivienne was a lady and a pillar of the anti-establishment. Brave, creative, prudent and a good friend. The best of Britain. I will miss her terribly and so many others.”
Another cause that Westwood was very keen on was climate change, and she demonstrated this both in her everyday life (cycling, pedaling through London even at the age of 80) and on the catwalks, where she dressed models with T-shirt slogans or equipped them with posters protest to hold.
She was also responsible for several more apolitical moments on the runway, including when her purple python platforms beat supermodel Naomi Campbell in 1993, and when a nearly naked Kate Moss walked the runway in nothing but a mini skirt and high heels, chewing ice. cream cone.
Moss’ stylist James Brown is just one of the many fashion figures mourning Westwood – whom he affectionately calls “Dame Punk.” “She will be remembered for her rebellious nature,” Brown told the Evening Standard.
He also told the story of his only run-in with Westwood when he was just 18: “One day in Covent Garden I saw him cycling past me. I screamed and ran towards her, shouting “Vivienne, I love you!”. stopped but just looked at me with her very naughty smile,” she recalls. “I didn’t say anything, neither did she.” It was the only time in my entire life that I was left speechless. I couldn’t believe that she was standing in front of me – my idol.
“I stared at her, no words were exchanged for ages, but I was literally head to toe in her clothes so she knew I was a bit overwhelmed by meeting her. On that day and every day for many years, I wore her clothes religiously.”
Many others have joined Brown in sharing their favorite Westwood stories since her death. Designer Marc Jacobs wrote on Instagram: “You did it first. Always. Amazing style with brilliant and meaningful content. I’m still learning from your words and all your amazing creations,” while singer Boy George tweeted, “RIP to the wonderful and inspiring Vivienne Westwood taking us through punk and beyond […] Without a doubt, she is the undisputed queen of British fashion.”
Her husband, Andreas Kronthaler, has pledged to carry on her legacy. “I will continue with Vivienne in my heart,” he said. “We worked until the end, and she gave me a lot of things to do.”