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Remembering Vivienne Westwood

When you hear the name Vivienne Westwood, your mind immediately goes to fashion, however, the namesake herself was so much more than a designer. Dame Vivienne Westwood was responsible for the rise of new wave and punk making its way into the mainstream world of fashion; her unique designs and iconic tartan prints quickly became a staple of British fashion and won her a place among the most successful British designers of all time.  

But of course, everyone must start somewhere. For Westwood, this was when she designed and made her own wedding dress for her first marriage to Derek Westwood in 1962. However, she first came into the public eye when she began making bondage clothing, platform heels and slogan t-shirts for her King’s Road boutique ‘SEX’ which she ran with her second husband, Malcolm McLaren, manager of the Sex Pistols. With her outlandish style and his influence in music, they pioneered the punk scene in the 1970s, with Westwood noting in Time magazine in 2020 that she saw punk as a way of “seeing if one could put a spoke in the system”.  

Westwood had publicly promoted political campaigns both personally and within her work

And so, the Vivienne Westwood empire developed, and by the 80s, the brand was a worldwide staple – but it was so much more than just fashion. Westwood had publicly promoted political campaigns both personally and within her work, such as the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and had attended multiple protests for this group. She also very famously cut her hair in support of climate change awareness and used her brand to support various civil rights groups, such as the British group, Liberty, with whom she launched exclusive limited-design t-shirts. The sale of the £50 T-shirts had then been used to successfully raise funds for the organisation. 

In a 2007 interview, Westwood spoke out against what she perceived as the “drug of consumerism“. When asked to respond to claims that anti-consumerism and fashion contradict each other, she stated: “I don’t feel comfortable defending my clothes. But if you’ve got the money to afford them, then buy something from me. Just don’t buy too much”. Later, Westwood created a manifesto called Active Resistance to Propaganda, in which she dealt with the pursuit of art in relation to humanity and climate change. She claimed in 2011 that her manifesto “penetrates to the root of the human predicament and offers the underlying solution. We have the choice to become more cultivated and therefore more human, or by muddling along as usual we shall remain the destructive and self-destroying animal, the victim of our own cleverness”. The manifesto was read by Westwood at several venues, including the London Transport Museum, and distributed to the public after readings as a booklet. It was then written in the form of a play and staged at the Bloomsbury Ballroom by the company Forbidden London and Dave West on 4 December 2009.  

She will truly be remembered as Britain’s greatest designer

Throughout her career, Vivienne Westwood was awarded a variety of honours, most notably her OBE for services to fashion design and later her promotion to Damehood in 2006. Yet, on 29 December 2022, she passed away aged 81, with her £70 million fashion empire left in the hands of her dear friend and fellow designer – Jeff Banks. A notable message following her death was from Chrissie Hynde, singer and guitarist of The Pretenders, who had also previously been employed as a shop assistant by Westwood and McLaren at “SEXduring the 1970s. She tweeted: “Vivienne is gone and the world is already a less interesting place”. But even so, we must not forget Westwood’s impact on the fashion world. She will truly be remembered as Britain’s greatest designer – and that is a legacy that will live on forever.  


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