Many of you might have heard of Vivienne Westwood’s iconic Bas Relief Pearl Necklace, which worked its way into the media several years ago. However, this is just one of the hundreds of brilliant designs she produced during her influence.
Vivienne Isabel Swire, the daughter of a factory worker and a cotton weaver, was born on April 8, 1941, in Derbyshire, England. As a teenager, she moved with her family to London, where she trained as a primary school teacher. After realizing her career wasn’t fulfilling enough, Westwood began creating jewelry and sold it at a little stand on Portobello Road. Very soon after, she met her first husband, Derek Westwood, a factory apprentice in Harrow, a borough just outside the city. On July 21, 1962, Vivienne and Derek married, and she designed her wedding dress. In 1963, she gave birth to her first son, Benjamin. In 1965, the couple divorced, and that same year, Vivienne moved in with Malcolm McLaren, the future manager of the punk band, The Sex Pistols. Together, they extended the influence of the 1970s punk music movement into the fashion industry.
In the 1950s, McLaren and Westwood opened and operated their second-hand stall, Let it Rock, selling vintage clothing and McLaren’s rock-and-roll record collection. Westwood produced the designs based on McLaren’s provocative ideas. Their customized distressed t-shirts included lots of anti-establishment slogans and graphics. They soon became known for their erotically changed fashion image.
In 1974, Westwood and McClaren opened their own boutique, which became a hit spot for those within the punk movement. Their boutique went by several names: Too Fast To Live, Too Young To Die; Sex; and finally, Seditionaries: Clothes For Heroes. One of their most influential fashion pieces from this era was bondage trousers, black pants with straps inspired by sadomasochist costumes. These pants referenced army combat gear, motorcyclists’ leather, and fetish wear and proved to be a controversial fashion statement. In 1981, they staged Pirates, their first commercial and ready-to-wear collection, just before the couple ended their personal relationship. They remained business partners for the next five years, but Westwood later established herself as a leading independent designer.
Westwood’s Mini-Crini Collection, which debuted in Spring/Summer of 1985, was revolutionary for her fashion line. She focused on reworking ideas inspired by historical British dress while tailoring additional designs with a more flattering fit. Some sources of her inspiration included classical paintings by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, François Boucher, and Thomas Gainsborough.
Westwood iconically built her fashion empire, annually produced two menswear and three womenswear collections, and operated numerous boutiques. In addition, she expanded her line to include bridal wear, shoes, hosiery, eyewear, scarves, cosmetics, perfumes, and more. On April 1, 2004, a retrospective dedicated to the largest exhibition ever made for a fashion designer in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London: “Vivienne Westwood: 34 Years in Fashion.”
Westwood was an activist at heart. Her designs and runways were a platform for Westfood to campaign political messages surrounding climate change, human rights issues, ethical fashion, and overconsumption.
On December 29, 2022, Vivienne Westwood passed away at the age of 81 in Clapham, South London, surrounded by her close family. Sky Arts rated her as the 4th most influential artist in Britain of the last 50 years. Vivienne Westwood and her legacy left a mark on the fashion world and will forever be remembered as influencing modern punk and new-wave fashion.
Featured Image via Vogue.