Vivienne Westwood, influential fashion maverick, dies at 81
LONDON Vivienne Westwood, an influential fashion maverick who played a key role in the punk movement, died on Thursday aged 81.
The eponymous Westwood fashion house announced her death on social media platforms, saying she passed away peacefully. The cause of death has not been disclosed.
« Vivienne continued to do the things she loved, until the last moment, designing, working on her art, writing her book and changing the world for the better, » the statement read. “She led an incredible life. Its innovation and impact over the past 60 years has been immense and will continue into the future.
Westwood’s fashion career began in the 1970s with the punk explosion, when his radical approach to urban street style took the world by storm. But she went on to a long career marked by a series of triumphant shows in London, Paris, Milan and New York.
The Westwood name became synonymous with style and attitude even as it shifted focus from year to year. His range was vast and his work was never predictable.
As her stature grew, she seemed to transcend fashion, with her designs featured in museum collections around the world. The young woman who had scorned the British establishment eventually became one of its leading figures, and she used her elite position to push for environmental reforms while keeping her hair dyed the bright orange hue which has become his trademark.
Andrew Bolton, curator of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, said Westwood would be celebrated for pioneering the punk look, combining a radical approach to fashion with the anarchic punk sounds developed by the Sex Pistols, managed by her partner then Malcolm McLaren.
« They gave the punk movement a look, a style, and it was so radical that it broke with everything that was going on in the past, » he said. “Torn shirts, safety pins, provocative slogans. She introduced postmodernism. He was so influential from the mid-70s. The punk movement never went away, it’s now part of our fashion vocabulary. It’s common now.
Westwood’s long career was full of contradictions: she was a lifelong rebel who was repeatedly honored by Queen Elizabeth II. She dressed like a teenager even in her 60s and became an outspoken supporter of the fight against global warming, warning of planetary catastrophe if climate change was left unchecked.
In her punk days, Westwood’s clothes were often intentionally shocking: T-shirts decorated with drawings of naked boys and « bondage pants » with sadomasochistic overtones were commonplace in her popular London boutiques. But Westwood managed to transition from punk to high fashion without wasting time, pursuing her career without lapsing into self-caricature.
“She was always trying to reinvent fashion. His work is provocative, it is transgressive. It’s very steeped in the English tradition of pastiche, irony and satire. She’s very proud of her English, and she always sends it,” Bolton said.
One of these transgressive and controversial designs featured a swastika, an inverted image of Jesus Christ on the cross, and the word « Destroy ». In an autobiography written with Ian Kelly, she said it was part of a statement against politicians who torture people, quoting Chilean Augusto Pinochet. When asked if she regretted the swastika design in a 2009 interview with Time magazine, Westwood said no.
« I don’t know, because we were just saying to the older generation, ‘We don’t accept your values or your taboos, and you’re all fascists,' » she replied.
She approached her work with enthusiasm in her early years, but over time she seemed to tire of the clamor and buzz. After decades of creating, she sometimes spoke wistfully of going beyond fashion to be able to focus on environmental issues and educational projects.
« Fashion can be so boring, » she told The Associated Press after showing off one of her new collections at a 2010 show. « I try to find something else to do. » At the time, she was talking about plans to launch an art and science TV series.
His parades were always the fanciest of events, attracting stars from the glittering world of film, music and television who wanted to bask in the mirrored glory of Westwood. But she has always spoken out against consumerism and conspicuous consumption, even urging people not to buy her expensive and beautifully crafted clothes.
« I just tell people, stop buying clothes, » she said. “Why not protect this gift of life while we have it? I don’t think destruction is inevitable. Some of us would like to stop this and help people survive.
Westwood was a self-taught designer with no formal training in fashion. She told Marie Claire magazine that she learned to make her own clothes as a teenager by following patterns. When she wanted to sell 1950s-style clothes in her first boutique, she found old clothes in markets and took them apart to figure out the fit and construction.
« It wasn’t a very efficient way to make clothes, but it was a great way for me to develop my technique, » she told the magazine.
Westwood was born in the village of Glossop, Derbyshire on April 8, 1941. Her family moved to London in 1957 and she attended art school for one term.
She met McLaren in the 1960s while working as a schoolteacher after separating from her first husband, Derek Westwood. She and McLaren opened a small boutique on King’s Road in Chelsea in 1971, at the end of the « Swinging London » era ushered in by the Beatles and Rolling Stones.
The store changed name and focus several times, operating as « SEX » – Westwood and McLaren were fined in 1975 for « indecent exposure » there – and « World’s End » and » Seditionaries ».
“Vivienne is gone and the world is already a less interesting place. I love you Viv,” tweeted Chrissie Hynde, the Pretenders singer and the couple’s former store clerk.
Westwood moved on to a new type of design with her « Pirates » collection, exhibited at her first runway show in 1981. This breakthrough is credited with taking Westwood in a more traditional direction, showing her interest in incorporating historic British designs into contemporary clothes.
It was also a milestone in an ongoing rapprochement between Westwood and the fashion world. The rebel eventually became one of its most famous stars, known for reinterpreting the opulent dresses of the past and often drawing inspiration from 18th century paintings.
But she still found ways to shock: her Statue of Liberty corset in 1987 is remembered as the start of the « undergarment as outerwear » trend.
She eventually branched out into a range of business ventures, including an alliance with Italian designer Giorgio Armani, and developed her Red Label ready-to-wear line, her more exclusive Gold Label line, a clothing collection for men and perfumes called Boudoir and Libertine. Westwood stores have opened in New York, Hong Kong, Milan and several other major cities.
She was named designer of the year by the British Fashion Council in 1990 and 1991.
Her rocky relationship with the British establishment is perhaps best illustrated by her 1992 trip to Buckingham Palace to receive an Order of the British Empire medal from Queen Elizabeth II: she wore no underwear. and posed for photographers in a way that made it crystal clear.
Apparently the Queen was not offended: Westwood was invited back to receive the even more auspicious designation of Dame Commander of the British Empire – the female equivalent of a knighthood – in 2006.
Westwood is survived by her second husband, Austrian-born Andreas Kronthaler, and her two sons.
The first, fashion photographer Ben Westwood, was her son with Derek Westwood. The second, Joe Corre — his son with McLaren — co-founded the high-end lingerie line Agent Provocateur.
Katz, a longtime Associated Press correspondent who died in 2020, was the primary author of the obituary.
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