Vivienne Westwood, Punk-Fashion Creator, dead at 81

Courtesy: Vivienne Westwood

OG Fashion’s Edge

Vivienne Westwood, the one who made punk and new age a concept the fashion industry, and New York Fashion Week could not live without, died today, peacefully and surrounded by her family, in Clapham, South London, Vivienne was 81 years old.

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, as fashion comes back from its unforgettable upheaval before, during, and after COVID-19, inspiring nothing but a move in a new and inspiring direction over the next few years and more.

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.

Courtesy: Vivienne Westwood Instagram via Juergen Teller

Vivienne’s adoring fans from high places sent their well wishes and condolences on her Instagram post, starting with “Sex And The City” star, Kim Cattrall, wrote “Always a legend. An icon for change and innovation. I was blessed to meet her and wear her creations. I always loved she was Northern, and never lost her gift. RIP Vivian. A true original……X”

Her husband and creative partner, Andreas Kronthaler, also released a statement and said, “I will continue with Vivienne in my heart.”

Courtesy: Vivienne Westwood

“We have been working until the end and she has given me plenty of things to get on with. Thank you darling,” he added.

Born on April 8, 1941, to Gordon and Dora Swire, a factory worker and cotton weaver, respectively, the English designer emerged on the fashion scene in the 1970s when she met artist and musician Malcolm McLaren, who was the manager of the punk band the Sex Pistols.

Westwood became one of the main designers of the punk fashion movement, co-managing a store with McLaren called SEX, located at 430 King’s Cross Road in Chelsea, which became a meeting place for those in London’s early punk scene. Her style was inspired by many punk icons including Viv Albertine, and many of those designs included mohair jumpers, slashed T-shirts, motorcyclists’ leather and army combat gear.

Aside from paving the way for punk and new romantic fashion trends, Westwood also used her designs to reflect the causes she was passionate about, including climate change. According to her brand’s website, Westwood supported hundreds of causes, NGOs, grassroots charities and campaigns over the last 20 years.

Courtesy: Vivienne Westwood

She started the Climate Revolution in 2012 to take action against disengaged political leaders and big businesses.

In 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, she wrote an op-ed for The New York Times talking about her activism.

The roots of Vivienne Westwood came right out of a time where there was plenty of rebellion to go around, spinning off all kinds of inspiration that lead to innovation in the fashion world, it all began in 1971.

Courtesy: Vivienne Westwood

The hippie movement was the most popular fashion in late 1960s London, but it didn’t inspire young Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren. They were much more intrigued by acts of rebellion and typical 1950s clothing, music, and memorabilia.

Vivienne began by designing and making Teddy Boy clothes for Malcolm and in 1971 they opened a small boutique called Let it Rock at number 430 Kings Road, Chelsea in London.

A year later, Vivienne’s interests had turned to biker clothing, zips, and leather. The shop re-branded with a skull and crossbones and was renamed Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die

Vivienne and Malcolm began to design their own t-shirts with provocative printed slogans, which led to their prosecution under the 1959 Obscene Publications Act; they responded by re-branding the shop once again and producing even more t-shirts featuring hard-core images. 

By 1974 the shop was renamed Sex, a shop “unlike anything else going on in England at the time” they used the slogan ‘rubberwear for the office’.

Two years later, popular band the Sex Pistols’ (managed by Malcolm) song ‘God Save the Queen’ went to number one in the charts but was refused airtime by the BBC. The shop reopened as Seditionaries, transforming the straps and zips of obscure sexual fetishism and bondage into fashion, and inspiring a D.I.Y. aesthetic. The mass media labelled this as ‘Punk Rock’.

The collapse of the Sex Pistols and the adoption of punk by the mainstream left Vivienne disenchanted. In 1980 the shop was refitted and renamed Worlds End, which is still the name that’s in use today.

The shop’s basement was formerly a restaurant, but Worlds End eventually absorbed it to expand the stockroom and staff facilities. Officially the shop hasn’t changed aesthetically since opening its doors. The original interior was restored in 2017, but all details remain as they were designed by Vivienne and Malcolm 40 years ago.

Daniel Quintanilla

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