Largely responsible for bringing modern punk and new wave into the mainstream, not only is Dame Vivienne Westwood a fashion designer, activist and businesswoman, but also most certainly a fashion mastermind.
Punk pioneer Vivienne Westwood is undoubtedly one of Britain’s most recognizable living icons and has left a clear mark in the fashion world, as well as in other areas. Her contributions to modern times are not only creative, but also political and cultural.
Get to know the fashion world’s favorite rebel with these interesting facts of her life and career.
1. She was born Vivienne Isabel Swire
She became Vivienne Westwood when she married Derek Westwood. The marriage only lasted 3 years.
2. Vivienne is a war baby.
She was born during World War II on April 8, 1941 to working class parents in Tintwistle, Derbyshire, England. She lived in a part of the country that had grown up in the Industrial Revolution. She didn’t know about art galleries, seen an art book, nor been to the theatre.
3. She almost gave up fashion and art
Vivienne started sewing clothes for herself at the age of 12 and studied fashion and silversmithing at the University of Westminster’s Harrow School of Art at age 17. But after only 1 term, she left to study at a teacher-training college and eventually became a primary school teacher. Reason why she left the university – she didn’t know how a working-class girl like herself could possibly make a living in the art world.
4. Fashion still calls for her.
Even as a teacher, Vivienne still was able to create her own jewellery, which she would sell at a stall on Portobello Road. She even made her own wedding dress for her wedding with Derek Westwood. After her split with Derek, she met art student and soon to be music business maverick Malcolm McLaren and he became her business partner and lover for 10 years.
5. Vivienne Westwood is the Godmother of Punk
Malcolm opened doors for her in the fashion and art world starting by dressing up the punk rock band that Malcolm managed, the Sex Pistols. The partners soon opened a boutique on King’s Road in Chelsea and called “Let It Rock”, later known as “Sex”, then as “Too Fast To Live Too Young To Die”, “Seditionaries” and lastly “Worlds Ends”. When it opened, the shop proved to be an important fashion and cultural centre for the punk movement, which began in the 70’s in the UK, then spread around the world, and is still very much alive today.
6. A Fashion Mastermind continues to evolve
After the punk era, Vivienne experimented with other themes in the early years of her career starting with her main women’s ready-to-wear line entitled “Pirate” that offered a romantic look which burst onto the fashion scene of the British capital and ensured the collection’s place in history. Her following collections took inspirations from diverse sources such as the film ‘Blade Runner’, the desert landscape, undergarments and Tokyo’s neon signs. She dubbed the period in her career from 1981 to 1985 as “New Romantic” and the one from 1988 to 1992 as “The Pagan Years”. During the latter period, Vivienne’s heroes changed from punks and ragamuffins to ‘Tatler’ girls wearing clothes that parodied the upper class.
7. She does the unexpected
Fast forward to present day… 2014 was a big year for Westwood. She designed not only the new Virgin Atlantic uniforms but also beloved pop culture icon Miss Piggy’s wedding dress for the Disney film ‘Muppets Most Wanted’. The highly anticipated wedding of Miss Piggy and her groom Kermit the Frog took place at the Tower of London where the bride walked down the aisle in a Vivienne Westwood long ivory court wedding gown, with corset detailing and paillettes made from recycled plastic bottles.
8. She’s a Rebel with a Cause
Vivienne often uses her catwalk shows, especially for her menswear and Red Label lines, as platforms to campaign about issues that she supports, such as climate change and Scottish independence. During London Fashion Week in September 2014, for her Red Label Spring/Summer 2015 collection, she sent her models down the runway wearing ‘Yes’ badges, proudly showing her wish for Scotland to break away from the UK. So it is no surprise that Vivienne was inducted into the Scottish Fashion Awards Hall of Fame for consistently used Scottish textiles and fabrics within her collections as well as for the significant impact she has made for campaigning for human rights and environmental issues.
Vivienne Westwood’s distinct point of view and passion are very much unique and worthy of praise, as she has shown throughout her career which so far spans over five decades. To this day, she remains as one of the most sought-after and influential designers, inspiring other brilliant and creative minds such as Karl Lagerfeld and John Galliano. She has dressed everyone from the Sex Pistols, to the Princess of Wales and many of today’s most iconic celebrities such as Scarlett Johansson, Gwen Stefani, Pharrell Williams and Marion Cotillard, just to name a few.
We cannot wait to keep witnessing what Dame Vivienne Westwood will do next.
“My clothes have a story. They have an identity. They have a character and a purpose. That’s why they become classics. Because they keep on telling a story. They are still telling it.”
– Vivienne Westwood.