The legendary fashion designer has passed away aged 81. Here we explore her extraordinary characteristics that made her an icon with a lasting legacy.
The late Dame Vivienne Westwood, celebrated fashion designer and outspoken human rights and climate change activist will forever remain an icon in the fashion world. From pioneering punk to re-vitalising the corset, many of fashion’s biggest moments happened because of her. And yet, her talents went far beyond style. Westwood understood the social and political messages that could be significantly communicated through her designs. She advocated for change and her life’s work should serve as inspiration for us all as we head into 2023.
Westwood was unapologetically herself. Always. Her long-time colleague, hair stylist Sam McKnight described her as a “true original. She was just like no other.” Vivienne’s vibrancy translated into her designs. From her first proper runway show inspired by pirates to daring tartan patterns, she always had a clear vision and stuck by it – even if that meant ruining McKnight’s work. On more than one occasion, he recalls Westwood destroying his styles right before a shows start. Yet he seen this as a part of the process. She had an idea in her head and both of them worked towards that idea until it came to life.
Westwood’s belief in herself is something to be admired and also something we should strive to achieve for ourselves. Understanding your own vision and trusting yourself is a major key to success. If the legendary designer isn’t evidence of that I don’t know what is.
When it came to social and political matters, Westwood was never on the fence. She was vocal about her beliefs and advocated tirelessly for change – in particular, climate change. Her Spring/Summer 2016 show called ‘Mirror the World,’ took place in Venice and serves as a call to action to save the city’s rich history and culture from the climate crisis. Unisex carnival clothing serve as an indicator to what Westwood describes as the “emporium of culture.” She was a firm believer that the arts gave us purpose and had the power to save the world, which is why she incorporated so much of her views into her own art. She knew how to make a statement and stood up for what she thought was right.
She was an active supporter of Cool Earth, a UK-based organisation that works to protect rainforests. Cool Earth’s mission is to back the people living in rainforests who are most affected by the climate crisis. They centre their campaigns around protecting the trees that provide us with the Oxygen we breath.
Dare to be different
Westwood’s emergence into the world of fashion began with punk. ‘Let it Rock’ was the name of the store she opened with her partner at the time Malcom McLaren in 1971. It was as a retailer of rebellion, originally designing Teddy Boy clothes inspired by the 1950s, before swiftly incorporating, zips, leather and skulls into its stock a year after its opening. Quite a contrast to the hippie style that was in full swing around this time. Yet, Vivienne prevailed and introduced the punk aesthetic to the world.
Throughout her career she continued to push boundaries, including the iconic 1994 ‘Café Society’ show where Kate Moss, almost unrecognisable in snow white makeup walked the runway in nothing but a mini skirt and an ice cream in her hand. Criticised by media everywhere at the time, the show is remembered fondly almost 30 years later.
It’s difficult to imagine that someone with such artistic vision came from very non-artistic roots. Vivienne’s upbringing in London was far removed from the glitz and glamour of theatres and art galleries, having never once set foot in either one throughout her childhood. In fact, her life was pretty much set in stone before meeting Malcom McLaren. She had been married to Derek Westwood, had a son, Ben and worked as a teacher. Not quite the origin story you would expect from the rebellious designer.
Her story shows us that the impossible is always possible. Dreaming big and following your heart can never set you wrong. Combined with her commitment to her vision and thought-provoking messages, Vivienne Westwood was a powerhouse within the fashion world that will truly be missed. The legendary fashion house is survived by her second husband, Kronthaler and sons, Ben and Derek Westwood and Joe Corré.