LEGACY OF VIVIENNE WESTWOOD: QUEEN OF PUNK
Dame Vivienne Westwood (Vivienne Isabel Swire), also known by many as the Queen of Punk, passed away last December in 2022. She may be known to many of Gen-Z (especially those of us on TikTok) for pearl chokers and corsets adorned by students and celebrities alike, but her legacy of punk, activism, and fashion extends far beyond an embellished Saturn symbol.
Westwood fostered the punk movement, weaving it into the world of high fashion and the mainstream. Throughout her career, she maintained a political fire that burned for sustainability, over-consumption, and anti-war that motivated her clothes-making.
Westwood was born in 1941 to a working class family in Derbyshire, England, her father a sausage factory worker and mother a grocer’s assistant. In 1957, they moved to a northern London suburb. Westwood completed one term of silversmithing school, but without a clear future in sight built on an education in the arts, she instead opted to train and work as a teacher.
Her exploration into the fashion world took off when she met Malcolm McLaren, who later became the manager of the Sex Pistols. Westwood dressed the band and formed a creative and personal partnership with McLaren. They opened a boutique together initially called “Let it Rock,” but it took on many names such as “Seditionaries,” “SEX,” and “World’s End” that synthesized a blossoming punk aesthetic. The store sold an array of vinyl, magazines, rock memorabilia, fetish gear, and Westwood’s clothing.
EARLY SHOWS: PIRATE
Pirate, in 1981 was Westwood’s first catwalk show in collaboration with Malcolm Mclaren. Drawing inspiration from history to reject modern hippie culture, as Westwood would continue to do in her later runway work, the show was defined by poofy silhouettes and flashy golds and yellows. This show cemented the fashion house’s place in the industry.
In 1984, the boutique had become Westwood’s entirely as she broke off her personal relationship with Mclaren. Though she maintained a positive professional relationship with him despite his abusive tendencies. They continued to create shows together, such as Savage, and Punkature, until Hypnos in 1984.
THE PAGAN YEARS
After Mclaren’s departure, Westwood moved away from the punk aesthetic and took a new approach to her designs. She focused on parodying the establishment while still incorporating historical references. Westwood continued with her signature tailoring and playful proportions into the late 80s, a period she dubbed “the pagan years.”
The most influential show of this period, Harris Tweed (F/W 1987), was inspired by a chance encounter. She explained: “My whole idea for this collection was stolen from a little girl I saw on the tube one day. She couldn’t have been more than 14. She had a little plaited bun, a Harris Tweed jacket, and a bag with a pair of ballet shoes in it. She looked so cool and composed standing there.”
In 1992, Westwood received an OBE, Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, from Queen Elizabeth, and infamously showed up without underwear on, a sure testament to her rebellious spirit.
Later that year, she began creating wedding gown collections which gained much attention. They were worn by British royalty and featured in the show Sex in the City.
ANGLOMANIA AND BEYOND
Anglomania, which debuted in Paris in 1993/94, drew inspiration from Scottish tartan, the French obsession with the English in the 1780s, and of course English culture. Westwood once said “I am never more happy than when I parody the British in the context of a classical perspective,” and this show is a perfect example of Vivienne’s interests: femininity, subversiveness, monarchy, tradition, and tailoring. Naomi Campbell’s iconic fall further made this show an unforgettable moment in fashion.
Other notable shows from this era include On Liberty F/W 1994/95 and Vive la Cocotte F/W 1995/96. On Liberty (F/W 1994/95) emphasized individual freedom. It utilized Liberty prints and pads to create an emphasized female form. Vive la Cocotte (Autumn-Winter 1995/96) built upon the exploration of the female figure in On Liberty and even further developed an hourglass silhouette with the introduction of a padded bust and a mental cage. In a glamorous and striking combination, Westwood expertly blended the historical and modern.
LATE CAREER: ACTIVISM AND POP CULTURE
With its punk origins, Vivienne’s work had always been political, but beginning in the 2000s, the political element overtook fashion as the primary element of work. While in the early years, her politics were based on punk’s anti-establishment ideology, climate change became Vivienne’s core issue: “Climate change, not fashion, is now my priority,” she said in 2014.
The fashion house also pushed gender norms: for FW 2015, Vivienne’s husband, Andreas Konthlar, launched Unisex, emphasizing androgynous silhouettes.
In 2018, she collaborated with Burberry on a fundraising collection for the climate NGO Cool Earth and donated over 1.5 million Euros to the cause. Furthermore, Vivienne Westwood mainline became fully digital to support the environment in 2019.
Vivienne Westwood pieces continue to be seen all over the world in pop culture, whether it’s Bella Hadid, FKA Twigs, Janelle Monae, Dua Lipa, or Blackpink’s Lisa– her legacy of both art and activism will assuredly continue to influence the young and old.
Featured image courtesy of Getty Images