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Dame Vivienne Westwood: We look back at the iconic punk fashion designer's incredible career

"Vivienne continued to do the things she loved, up until the last moment"


vivwest
Natalie Salmon
Fashion Digital Editor
December 30, 2022
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Legendary designer, Dame Vivienne Westwood passed away on the 29 December. In a statement posted on instagram her eponymous fashion house explained that “Vivienne Westwood died today, peacefully and surrounded by her family, in Clapham, South London."

The statement continued, “Vivienne continued to do the things she loved, up until the last moment, designing, working on her art, writing her book, and changing the world for the better. She led an amazing life. Her innovation and impact over the last 60 years has been immense and will continue into the future.”

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“Vivienne considered herself a Taoist. She wrote, “Tao spiritual system. There was never more need for the Tao today. Tao gives you a feeling that you belong to the cosmos and gives purpose to your life; it gives you such a sense of identity and strength to know you’re living the life you can live and therefore ought to be living: make full use of your character and full use of your life on earth.” The world needs people like Vivienne to make a change for the better.”

The designer is one of the most iconic and referenced in history, and the story of how she began her namesake label is seeped in cultural importance. Influenced by acts of rebellion and typical 1950s clothing, music, and memorabilia, a young Vivienne Westwood and her then partner Malcolm McLaren (manager of the Sex Pistols) opened a small boutique called Let it Rock at number 430 Kings Road, Chelsea in London in 1971. The style was a complete departure from the popular hippie fashion movement that was trending at the time. Two years later, the Sex Pistols’ song ‘God Save the Queen’ went to number one in the charts but was refused airtime by the BBC. The shop then reopened as Seditionaries, transforming the straps and zips of obscure sexual fetishism and bondage into fashion, and inspiring a D.I.Y. aesthetic worn by the band. The mass media labelled this aesthetic as ‘Punk Rock’, a fashion movement that Vivienne became renowned for throughout her career.

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vivienne westwood and malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren

Her first runway show was in 1981, dubbed the ‘Pirate’ Collection informed the aesthetic of her Boutique with its pirate’s galleon and ship features. This collection was filled with romantic looks in gold, orange, and yellow which burst onto the London fashion scene, ensuring its place in the house’s history of influence. This moment also marked a major change in her approach to designing, and a radical change of direction. “Street style and youth culture ceased to play a major part in her work and instead, Westwood looked to traditional Savile Row tailoring techniques, British fabrics and 17th and 18th century art for inspiration,” the brand explains on its website. 

vivienne westwood pirate collection

The 'Pirate' aesthetic became a signature for the designer and her store

Following a stream of successful shows, in December 1990 Vivienne opened the Davies Street boutique in London’s Mayfair. Vivienne then received the award for Fashion Designer of the Year for two years in a row in 1990 and 1991 by the British Fashion Council. Vivienne received an O.B.E at Buckingham Palace from her Majesty Queen Elizabeth ll in 1992 (ever the rebel, she collected the accolade sans underwear - which apparently amused her majesty), the same year she introduced wedding gowns into her collections. The designer married her longtime collaborator Andreas Kronthaler in 1993, whom she met in 1988 whilst teaching in Vienna. 

During this period Vivienne went from coveting punk pirates to idiosyncratic sloane rangers. Known as ‘Tatler’ girls, she created garments that parodied the upper class. A chance encounter inspired one of her most important and influential collections, Autumn-Winter 1987 ‘Harris Tweed’. “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.” The clothing took a distinctly British turn, “Vivienne channelled her creative nature into producing her own tartan for the ‘Anglomania’ Autumn-Winter 1993/94 collection and invented her own clan, MacAndreas. The Lochcarron of Scotland officially recognized the clan, which is a process that normally takes 200 years, a huge achievement for Vivienne.”

dame vivienne westwood dies aged 81

The legendary designer shaped the global fashion agenda throughout her career

In 2006 she was made a Dame for her services to the fashion industry and in 2007 Vivienne received the Outstanding Achievement in Fashion Design award at the 2007 British Fashion Awards. 

Things took a new direction for the fashion house in 2016 when her husband, Andreas Kronthaler, debuted his first official collection at Paris Fashion Week Autumn-Winter under the name Andreas Kronthaler For Vivienne Westwood, replacing Gold Label. “Over the years Andreas has taken on ever more responsibility and I wish this fact to be reflected in public perception,” Vivienne said at the time.

It is understood that Andreas’ tenure at the house will continue following the passing of Dame Vivienne.

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