Style Icon - Vivienne Westwood
Turning kinky bondage gear, spiked dog-collars and a whole lot of safety pins into widely acknowledged catwalk fashion, Vivienne Westwood is a British treasure, celebrated designer and punk goddess. Since the 70s, her designs remain recognisable, iconic and fierce. In celebration of Punk Season, we are taking a look at Westwood's designs over the years and why she is a true testament to British fashion.
Vivienne Westwood is an anomaly against a fashion-frenzy backdrop becauase, unlike many in her industry, she chose to use her platform to create real change. This is just one of the reasons her popularity has never faltered. This and the fact that she received her OBE from the Queen with no knickers on, which the Queen must have loved because she promoted her to Dame in 2006.
Today, a candidly vocal activist and eco warrior, she is fashion's advocate for anything non-conformist, well and truly earning her title as one of Britain's most influential icons. Still true to her image and politics, her punk roots are just as apparent now as they were in her 70s heyday. To those in the industry she is known as the rule-breaker and is still just as daring at 74 years old.
The 1970s and Punk
Vivienne Westwood found her place in fashion during the rise of the 1970s Punk movement, helping to set the tone for new wave music and creative freedom. Donning tartan checks and her go-to leather jackets, Westwood maintained her punk spirit which she claims she adopted because she "was upset with what was going on in the world". Living in a world where the older generation failed to make changes, Vivienne found the punk scene her calling. She continued to push the boundaries of fashion with her then trademark bleach blonde bedhead hair-do. This type of exhibitionism evoked the exact type of reaction she anticipated; she is a pioneer for using fashion to provoke emotions and shock her audience with her candidly wild life.
After the breakdown of her first marriage, Westwood's life took a turn when she met then Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren in 1965. Emmersed in creativity with her new beau, she discovered the role fashion could play in politics. It was then that she truly realised the influence her work could have on the way British people saw the world.
It has been said that the couple's working relationship built the subversive image of punk in England from the late 60s to the 80s. Throughout their time together, Westwood showcased her designs by dressing English punk rock band the Sex Pistols. McClaren and Westwood opened a shop in 1971 on the King's Road, used to test her designs but also play with fire and muddy the waters by placing her store in the heart of Chelsea.
The store went through a lot of changes, continuously rebranded from 'Let It Rock' and 'Too Fast To Live Too Young to Die' to 'Sex' and 'Seditionaries'. in 1974, whilst labelled 'Sex', the exterior hosted 4ft foam rubber letters spelling the store's then title. Once inside, the store was awash with graffiti and adorned with all things fetish wear, including some Westwood designs. Since 1979 however the store was renamed for the last time as 'Worlds End', providing the name for that section of the King's Road, which remains open as a part of Vivienne's global business.
The 1980s and the New Romantic Movement
Under the reign of Margaret Thatcher, the early 80s saw a large number feeling a huge sense of repression, thus evoking political movement in the form of fashion. Much like the punk era, New Romanticism took a lot of their inspiration for the glam rock stars of the 70s and punk attitude, dubbing the movement as a 'reaction to punk'. The New Romantic roots were lodged in central London, with the onset of the 'Blitz Club' where 'outrage secured entry'. The weekly Blitz club night took place in Covent Garden, located in between St Martin's School and Central School (Now Central St. Martin's), making it the testing ground for up and coming designers.
The shift from Punk saw a greater androgynous appearance, with men and women alike wearing unusual homemade clothes and eccentric make-up. Musical influences such as 80s pop icons Boy George, Adam Ant and David Bowie added to the ideology of the movement. The 80s steered away from punk accents such as ripped denim and slogan tees, spearheaded by Vivienne Westwood whose Pirate Collection was worn by Adam Ant, managed by Malcolm McLaren at the time.
The 1990s and Supermodel Icons
Her Autumn/Winter 1993-4 collection, shown at Paris Fashion Week, was quintessentially British and some say her most famous catwalk show (undoubtedly aided by the super model Naomi Campbell falling over in 4-inch snakeskin heels during the show). The entire affair was an exhibition of all things 90s, for which Vivienne worked alongside Scottish craftsmen to create her own tartan pieces. She layered plenty of necklaces and even had 1990s poster girl Kate Moss fronting the show along with her slightly unstable best friend Naomi.
The 2000's to Present and the Anti-fracking Queen
These days you can find Westwood commenting on International politics, campaigning for Nuclear Disarmament and marching on the streets of London for The People's Climate. She does so alongside activist models and friends she has made in the industry that share her devoted approach to using fashion as a political voice. She is known to have donated more than £1m to the Cool Earth charity, protecting endangered rainforests, and is openly dedicated to others like it. Her attitude towards sustainable fashion is projected in her work with the Ethical Fashion Initiative, whom she has worked with since 2013 developing her "handmade with love" collection using recycled materials collected from Nairobi's biggest slum. The collection includes patchwork bags and hand-beaded clutches.
Vivienne Westwood's commitment to the fashion industry and sheer devotion to utilising it to her best ability has left a distinguished legacy and one that would be near impossible to challenge or surpass. Long may our Anti-Fracking Punk Queen reign.