Death of Vivienne Westwood, “the empress of punk” who became a great lady of fashion

She was both the “empress of punk” and the star designer of British fashion: known for her eccentric creations, Vivienne Westwood died on Thursday after more than fifty years of fashion as a political platform.

“Vivienne Westwood died today peacefully and surrounded by her family in Clapham, south London. The world needs people like Vivienne to turn things around for the better,” her fashion label tweeted.

In a statement quoted by the PA agency, her husband and creative partner Andreas Kronthaler added: “We worked until the end and she left me a lot to carry on. Thank you darling”.

March 2022 in Paris: at the end of her label’s parade, the 81-year-old designer climbs the podium to greet the public. Exit the long red mane, here is the gray hair, tied in an elegant bun. Slender silhouette, the designer is perched on impressive wedge shoes. The one who agitated – and even shocked – the muffled world of fashion is still there, true to herself.

However, in 2016, she gave up the artistic direction of her label to her husband Andreas Kronthaler, an Austrian 25 years her junior. Change, yes, but in the continuity of what the Westwood brand has been: a rebellious, transgressive and committed label. “Defending ideas makes me happy,” she told her friend Ian Kelly, co-author with her of a biography published in 2014.

“Always Punk”

Born Vivienne Swire – Westwood is the name of her first husband with whom she will remain four years – on April 8, 1941 in a small village in the county of Derbyshire (central England), she is the eldest of a modest family of three children.

She left her native region at the age of 17 for London where she studied fashion. His meeting with Malcolm McLaren, the future manager of the Sex Pistols, changes his life. Driven by the same desire to break with the “Peace and Love” generation, the couple started making clothes and opened a shop on King’s Road in 1970.

Porn T-shirts, SM outfits, pumps with stiletto heels or vinyl tights make up the outfits that Vivienne Westwood wears in front of dumbfounded passers-by. Success is on the way. Their closeness to the “Sex Pistols”, whose hit “God save the Queen” was a worldwide success, anchored the couple in the punk universe.

Also read: Vivienne Westwood at the museum, England’s tribute to its other queen

It was during this period that she designed her famous T-shirt featuring the face of Queen Elizabeth. In 1981, she organized her first fashion show in London, which she named “Pirates”. If she will, over the years, move away from BDSM outfits (bondage, submission domination and sadomasochism), she will never betray her punk spirit.

“What I do today is still punk. It’s always about crying out against injustice and making people think even if it’s uncomfortable. I will always remain punk in this sense”, she confided to Ian Kelly.

Green Pasionaria

Always irreverent, as in 1992 when she was photographed leaving Buckingham Palace without underwear. The designer had just been made an Officer of the British Empire (OBE) by the Queen and showed off her private parts as she twirled her skirt.

But above all, Vivienne Westwood remains an ultra-politicized fashion designer. Convictions that she defended on her podiums. At the center of his fights, his commitment to the environment. A pioneer, in 2008 she called on the fashion industry to take climate change into account and urged consumers not to constantly buy clothes, even if her detractors pointed out her contradictions in this area.

His other big fight was the defense of Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, arrested in 2019 after spending more than seven years as a refugee in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. The same year she denounced during one of her parades “the corruption of the government and the death of justice”. A year later, she appeared in a giant cage in front of a London court to protest her extradition.

WikiLeaks tweeted the news of Westwood’s death with pictures of her and Julien Assange side-by-side, wearing the same Westwood-designed T-shirt, and adding, “Rest in Power.”

BREAKING: Dame Vivienne Westwood – Icon, Activist and staunch advocate of Julian Assange passed away today aged 81 – may she Rest in Power @FollowWestwood

“The world is already a less interesting place” without Westwood, tweeted for her part Chrissie Hynde, who had worked for SEX, the designer’s clothing store, before forming the group Pretenders.