Vivienne Westwood, godmother of punk, dies at 81

Photo of Vivienne Westwood
Photo of Vivienne Westwood
Contributed image

Vivienne Westwood, fashion designer widely known as “the godmother of punk”, passed away on Dec. 29, 2022 at the age of 81. Her namesake company announced her death without specifying the cause. 

Westwood’s death follows her long and remarkable career, during which she added elements of couture to punk style. The symbols of rock iconography, royalty, art and religion in her collections.  

“[Westwood] was influenced by art history, old master paintings,” said Véronique Hyland, author of Dress Code: Unlocking Fashion From the New Look to Millennial Pink. “She’s very focused on the English tradition of tailoring.” 

At 30, Westwood opened a shop in London with her boyfriend, Malcolm McLaren called Let It Rock. It sold unconventional clothing inspired by the ‘Teddy boy’ look of the 1950s.  

Westwood later established an international reputation under her own name. Supermodels and celebrities alike sported her work. 

When McLaren managed the Sex Pistols, Westwood dressed them in shirts from Let It Rock. It was a perfect fit for the band, who made hits like “Anarchy in the U.K.” and “God Save the Queen”.  

What’s more, Westwood’s clothes were featured in the 2008 film adaptation of “Sex and the City.” Actress Kate Winslet also famously wore a gown by the designer to the 1996 Oscars. 

The hallmarks of Westwood’s legacy are corsets, platform shoes and mini-crini; a mix between a Victorian crinoline and miniskirt. Her other creations include shirts with photos of pinup girls and studded underwear.  

“I did not see myself as a fashion designer but as someone who wished to confront the rotten status quo through the way I dressed and dressed others,” Westwood said in her memoir. 

Her career was not without controversy- namely, her shirt with the slogan ‘Destroy’ featured a swastika. Westwood later clarified the message was to destroy anti-semitism. “We were just saying to the older generation, ‘We don’t accept your values or your taboos, and you’re all fascists,’” she said.  

Westwood’s career is padded with accolades; she was the British Fashion Council’s designer of the year in 1990 and 1991. She was also recognized at the British Fashion Awards in 2007 for outstanding achievement in fashion. As well, she was a dame on the Queen’s New Year’s Honors list in 2006.  

While her main legacy was as fashion designer, Westwood was also an environmental and political activist. She has used her platform for different causes, such as encouraging her audience to adopt green energy in a 2017 show.  

She also protested the jailing of Julian Assange, founder of media company WikiLeaks, in 2020. Wearing bright yellow, she locked herself in a cage outside a London court.  

“I am Julian Assange,” she declared. “I am the canary in the cage. If I die down the coal mine from poisonous gas, that’s the signal.” 

Through her activism and designs, Westwood has remained a prominent figure not only in punk, but fashion and society at large.

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