SEX, punk, and activism: Dame Vivienne Westwood is one of those great British designers who have stepped out from the parameters of just simply a fashion designer. Like a fine wine, Westwood has created something of a punk legacy that has gotten even better with age.
Vivienne Isabel Swire was born in Glossop, Derbyshire England on April 8, 1941 but soon moved to London in her late teens. She attended the Harrow School of Art but remained unconvinced that she could possibly make a living off of it. Vivienne became a primary school teacher while also making her own jewelry on the side, and selling it at local markets.
After a failed marriage to Sam Westwood and her firstborn child Benjamin Westwood, Vivienne then met Malcolm McLaren. The two became lovers and opened a store called Let it Rock in 1971, and then re-naming it SEX in 1974; it is now called World’s End. The couple filled their boutique with clothing inspired by bondage, biker culture, and trashy lingerie.
McLaren went on to manage the Sex Pistols, famously dressing the band in the shocking garb from SEX, which became the epicenter of punk fashion. Westwood was very interested in the punk scene and the political spectrum, a world much different from her humble roots. She had one child with McLaren, Joseph Corré, who later went on to co-found the high-end lingerie store, Agent Provocateur.
As the punk movement started to unravel, Vivienne moved on, taking her style another direction, with frilly shirts and pirate-themed designs. She continued on, bringing her unconventional style to the runway, inspiring much of the 80’s new romantic trends like the mini-crini, use of tulle, and tweet suits.
Westwood famously posed as controversial politician, Margret Thatcher on British magazine, Tattler, inciting rage against the fashion designer. She has also sent men down the runway wearing fake breasts and lipstick among many other unusual pieces. Naomi Campbell famously tripped in a pair of Westwood’s twelve inch heels, which are now on display at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.
Outspoken about her beliefs, Vivienne has played a role in creating fair trade bag-making factories in Africa and promoting sustainable lifestyles. She joined the Occupy movement and wore shirts in support of Julian Assange, on her online diary, Westwood recently wrote “Don’t Trust Governments, Ever”. In 1993 when she was awarded with an Order of the British Empire, she went without underwear to her ceremony at Buckingham Palace.
Vivienne Westwood lived in her small extremely modest £400/a month flat in South London until 2000, then moved to the home belonging to the mother of Captain Cook. She married one of her fashion students, who is much younger than her, they have been together since 1992, the two are passionate about climate change, fighting oppression and keeping the punk spirit alive.