British Fashion Royalty Dame Vivienne Westwood Has Died

by Christina Donoghue on 30 December 2022

A rebel never without a cause, it was announced yesterday that Punk's fairy godmother Dame Vivienne Westwood has died, aged 81.

A rebel never without a cause, it was announced yesterday that Punk's fairy godmother Dame Vivienne Westwood has died, aged 81.

Dame Vivienne Westwood, one of the founders of punk and a designer who has left an irrevocable mark on the fashion industry over the past six decades, has died. The shocking news came in an Instagram post late yesterday evening via the designer's social media account detailing her legacy, noting, 'The world needs people like Vivienne to make a change for the better'.

Born in a small Derbyshire village in 1941, Westwood moved with her family to London in 1957, where she attended art school for a single term before hastily dropping out. One of the industry's few self-taught designers, Westwood instead learned how to make clothes by taking apart secondhand designs found in and around markets to understand the cut and construction of cloth. A trusted method that's even taught in art and fashion schools up and down the country today.

In 2004, Westwood became the seventh cultural figure to discuss her life and work with SHOWstudio and the public as part of our In Camera series. In this interview, Westwood spoke at length of her self-taught training in response to a question asking if it had 'helped or hindered' the designer's career. As inspirational as ever; Westwood's answer will forever serve as gospel for all those studying fashion design at London's prestigious art colleges and beyond. 'We live in an age where young people are flattered into believing that they can do anything that they want. It's not true and you have to have an aptitude for something. A talent for it. The general syndrome regarding education is that people are trained not to think: that thinking is dangerous. Nobody who's a sheep is ever going to be a fashion designer. The next important word is discipline. The only important discipline is self-discipline.' Designers, take note.

Vivienne Westwood for SHOWstudio, 2004

After meeting band manager Malcolm McLaren in the 1960s - famed for founding punk's most rebellious group, the Sex Pistols - the pair opened London's infamous Sex shop on Kings Road in Chelsea, where her provocative, controversial and revealing bondage designs came to define the very movement McLaren's band found themselves at the epicentre of. Her work here propelled her onto the world stage as the industry watched her grow from an ex-primary school teacher to one of punk's leading figures, a leader of defiance who blended sex with historical references, classic tailoring and overtly political messages, all in one.

Never one to stay silent or scale back her mischievousness, when she was granted an Order of the British Empire medal in 1992, the designer wore a modest calf-length grey skirt suit to accept the honour from Queen Elizabeth II. Awaiting photographers outside the palace witnessed less decorum from the provocateur who gave the press a fabulous twirl, purposefully revealing to the world that she had, in fact, gone commando. In 2006, Westwood accepted the appointment of Dame Commander of the British Empire.

Vivienne Westwood outside Buckingham Palace, 2006

In her later years, her activism spoke just as loud as her punk designs. Always armed with a political message as per her early work, it was in the mid-2000s she turned her activist efforts to the climate, where she even undermined her own business by continually proclaiming to 'stop buying clothes'. In 2007, she published a manifesto titled Active Resistance to Propaganda and in 2015, she drove a tank to the then prime minister, David Cameron's home in Oxfordshire in a protest against fracking. She also joined other designers, such as Stella McCartney, in lobbying the British government to ban the retail sale of fur. In 2020, her protesting efforts saw her turn to help her friend Julian Assange when she suspended herself in a birdcage wearing a cardboard sign that scribbled 'I AM JULIAN ASSANGE' to let her opposal against the WikiLeaks founder's unlawful extradition from the UK be known.

There are many terms one could use to describe legendary fashion designer Dame Vivienne Westwood; 'godmother of punk', 'fashion's favourite activist' and 'visionary creative' indeed all fit like a glove. Yet somehow, the seismic shift that occurred in fashion as soon as she landed on Kings Road with her Sex shop in the 1970s catapulted her above just an expression or way of description, making history not only in London but worldwide. Dame Vivienne Westwood changed fashion forever. No question. And for that, she will continually be an inspiration to students and designers old and young, new and experienced, long after her death.

Dame Vivienne Westwood 1941-2022.

Vivienne Westwood, Robin Laurance.


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