Dame Vivienne Westwood, Queen of Punk and climate activist, has died age 81
Dame Vivienne Westwood, the doyenne of British fashion, pioneer of the punk movement and ardent climate activist, has died aged 81.
With a career spanning five decades, Westwood changed fashion forever when she introduced punk in the 1970s and along with partner Malcolm McLaren, who managed the Sex Pistols, opened a store on the Kings Road in London’s Chelsea. From the shredded t-shirts to the bondage and fetishism – studs, leather and zips - there was a cultural wave that was transforming England, and Westwood’s unapologetic designs of the time defined an era that continues to reverberate around the world.
In the 1990s it was Anglomania that continued Westwood’s reign. Taking inspiration from the art of the classical, mediaeval and renaissance periods, she designed a Scottish tartan that became synonymous with the brand, spawning into its own diffusion range in the late 90s.
In 1997 Westwood opened her London store on Conduit Street, a thoroughfare between Soho and Mayfair, followed by a store in New York in 1999.
A new silhouette
Westwood broke the mould of generic fashion, creating the brand's recognisable hourglass figure with padded bust and bustle constructed out of a lightweight metal cage. Paired with towering platforms, the image of Naomi Campbell tripping on the catwalk has forever been sealed in the archives of catwalk shows.
Other signatures are Westwood’s use of asymmetry, bias cuts and decorative fabrics, where she continued to explore British tailoring and historical dress, but reconstructed clothes in novel ways.
As one of the UK’s last independent brands, Ms Westwood used her voice to educate the industry on climate change and sustainability. She was as notorious for her Kings Road Sex shop as she was for her activism and ecological crusading. For the past 20 years Vivienne has supported hundreds of causes, NGOs, grassroot charities and campaigns including Amnesty International, War Child and Liberty, as well as launching her own campaigning movement Climate Revolution. She is also an ambassador for Greenpeace. In 2013 Vivienne designed their official ‘Save the Arctic’ logo and in 2015 she launched a global campaign to stop drilling and industrial fishing in the area.
Westwood’s partner Andreas Kronthaler was instrumental to the fashion house in later years, with his name appearing on garments and official notes.
“Over the years Andreas has taken on ever more responsibility and I wish this fact to be reflected in public perception,” Vivienne Westwood stated.
“We chose to separate our lines in order to clarify and reduce them. Gold Label became Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood, while Vivienne designs Vivienne Westwood Mainline, which includes Unisex – a way to reduce buying,” Kronthaler said.
The brand took a hiatus from physical shows during the pandemic, but last year opened stores in Beijing and Shanghai.
For her last collection, AW2022/23, Quality not quantity, Westwood turned to The Year of the Tiger, to symbolise strength, courage and exorcising evil.
“I just use fashion as an excuse to talk about politics. Because I'm a fashion designer, it gives me a voice, which is really good,”