Vivienne Westwood doesn’t just make British fashion—She’s British fashion
Without Vivienne Westwood, there would be no British fashion. Such is the legacy of the designer, who died on Thursday at the age of 81. In a career spanning more than half a century, Westwood has been the patron saint of British fashion’s innate weirdness – guardian for its thrust, its unsuitability, its. musician. Without Westwood, there would be no Alexander McQueen, no Charles Jeffrey. London Fashion Week will not enjoy its status as an exciting event on the international stage. Westwood’s death is the loss of British fashion.
Westwood was born in rural Derbyshire to greengrocer parents and moved with the family to Harrow in 1958 before taking a course in jewelry. She was working-class – proudly – and supported herself in her studies by working as a factory technician and elementary school teacher. It was only when Westwood ran her own Portobello Road stall in North West London – then a hotbed of music and counterculture – that her own aesthetic took shape. She makes fashion and accessories outside the world of fashion and accessories: her work is subversive, and for the socially conservative UK, alien.
Westwood’s marriage to her second husband, Malcolm McLaren, helped bring her designs to the world. McLaren will eventually manage the Sex Pistols, and the spitting, raucous godfathers of punk are ready and waiting role models for Westwood’s anarchy. The stripes? Safety pins? Freddy Krueger in knitting kindergarten? That’s all Westwood.
Her Chelsea store, SEX, became a mecca for the punk rock movement. Inside, the mix of typical British style — tailoring, evening wear and casual wear — is a new distinction for continental designers.
Before long, SEX had niche fashion collections and Westwood showed off his unique avant-garde style in London and Paris. Her contours, cuts, and rippling bare flesh inspired puns; soon, it also affected the Neo-Romantic. The kids in the club have their own designer, and they don’t mind a few drinks spilled on the scrapped yard. Arguably her most famous collection came out in 1981. Dubbed “Pirates,” it included perforated Napoleon hats, Marie Antoinette sleeves and Dick frills. Turpin became the uniform for Adam and the Ants and Bow Wow Wow. It’s the kind of canine camp that never lets go.
Even in his later years, Westwood was attracted to – perhaps even motivated by – controversy. Her political ideology is purely a striped canvas. In 2005, she produced a series of T-shirts with slogans in support of the British civil rights group Liberty that read “I am not a terrorist.” Two years later, Westwood announced that she had switched her support from Labor, the historic party of workers, to the Conservative Party for the crimes of the Iraq War. Then there was the defeat of the Green Party, Jeremy Corbyn and Julian Assange. Above all, Westwood wants what she believes is best for the planet, be it politics or ecology. “I know how to save the world from climate change,” she told Britain’s GQ in 2021. “I’m the only one with a plan.” Her focus on sustainability feels right for a designer who loves the natural world. The collections become completely gender-neutral (they always feel that way, anyway) and the fabrics are either recycled or organic.