Dame Vivienne Westwood, the rule-breaking fashion designer whose clothes helped bring Britain’s punk movement into the mainstream, has died. in one expressionHer representatives confirmed that she died “peacefully and surrounded by her family in Clapham, south London” today (29 December). Westwood was 81 years old.
Born Vivienne Isabel Swire on 8 April 1941 in Hollingworth, England, she began working in jewelery when her family moved to Harrow, Middlesex and she was taking a silversmithing course at the University of Westminster. Disillusioned with the idea that a working-class girl could make a living from art, she left the company to take a job in the factory instead, creating her own jewelry on the side before becoming an elementary school teacher. After marrying Hoover factory apprentice Derek Westwood in 1962, she gave birth to their first son, Benjamin Westwood. However, they divorced a few years later and she married Malcolm McLaren. In 1967 she gave birth to her second son, Joseph Corré.
In 1971, Westwood left her job as a teacher to design clothes full-time, with McLaren designing many of the looks. The pair opened a boutique specializing in revival outfits, but not until they renamed it SEX in 1974 and stocked it with rebellious clothing – defined by ripped T-shirts, plaid patterns, built-in rubber, mohair tops and safety pin embellishments – that it caught on and served as a meeting place for key figures in the music scene of the time such as Sid Vicious, Siouxsie and the Banshees guitarist Marco Pirroni and pop group singer Mark Stewart. When McLaren became manager of the Sex Pistols shortly thereafter, the band began wearing the couple’s designs, bringing that British punk look into the mainstream and linking the two forever in history.
“It changed the way people looked,” Westwood said of her early punk clothing in an interview with the Independent. “I was messianic about punk, to see if there was any way to thwart the system. I realized that without ideas there is no subversion. It is not enough to want to destroy everything.”
In the 1980s, Westwood shifted her design focus from the punk scene to parodies of upper-class women. Westwood didn’t realize she was a fashion designer until she debuted her official Pirates fashion line in 1981. From there, she introduced the “mini-crini,” reinventing the Victorian crinoline as a miniskirt, and began to push the boundaries of clothing as a representation of female sexuality. In the years that followed, Westwood designed academic gowns for London’s King’s College, created uniforms for Virgin Atlantic flight crews, and mimed digital clothing for video game characters such as Lunafreya Nox Fleuret in Final Fantasy XV.