Vivienne Westwood, influential fashion maverick, dies at 81

Andrew Bolton, curator of the Costume Institute at New York’s Metropolitan Museum, said Westwood would be famous for pioneering the punk look, combining a radical fashion approach with the anarchic punk sounds developed by the Sex Pistols, led by his then-partner. , Malcolm McLaren.

“They gave the punk movement a look, a style, and it was so radical that it broke with anything from the past,” he said. “The torn shirts, the safety pins, the provocative slogans. She introduced postmodernism. It was so influential since the mid 70s. The punk movement has never dissipated, it has become part of our fashion vocabulary. It’s mainstream now.”

Westwood’s long career was filled with contradictions: she was a lifelong rebel who was honored multiple times by Queen Elizabeth II. She dressed like a teenager even at 60 and became an outspoken supporter of the fight against global warming, warning of planetary doom if climate change went unchecked.

IIn his punk days, Westwood’s clothing was often intentionally shocking: T-shirts decorated with drawings of naked children and “bondage pants” with sadomasochistic overtones were the standard in his popular London shops. But Westwood was able to make the transition from punk to high fashion without missing a beat, keeping his career going without stooping to self-caricature.

“She was always trying to reinvent fashion. Her work is provocative, she is transgressive. She is deeply rooted in the English tradition of pastiche, irony, and satire. She is very proud of her English character and she still passes it on,” Bolton said.

British fashion designer Vivienne Westwood poses with one of her creations May 5, 1999, displayed at Christie’s in Vienna with more than 20 dresses inspired by 18th century France.File Gerhard Gradwohl / AP

One of those controversial and transgressive designs featured a swastika, an inverted image of Jesus Christ on the cross, and the word “Destroy.” In an autobiography written with Ian Kelly, he said it was part of a statement against politicians who torture people, citing Chile’s Augusto Pinochet. When asked if he regretted the swastika design in a 2009 interview with Time magazine, Westwood said no.

“I don’t, because we were just saying to the older generation, ‘We don’t accept your values ​​or taboos, and you’re all fascists,’” she replied.

Vivienne Westwood attends a Cool Earth event in association with Lima Floral to help save the rainforest in Peru on September 18, 2018 in London.
Vivienne Westwood at a Cool Earth event in association with Lima Floral to help Save Rainforest in Peru on September 18, 2018 in London.Ki Price/WireImage File

He approached his work with gusto in his early years, but over time he seemed to tire of the clamor and buzz. After decades of design, she sometimes spoke wistfully of moving beyond fashion so she could focus on environmental issues and educational projects.

“Fashion can be so boring,” she told The Associated Press after introducing one of her new collections at a 2010 show. “I’m trying to find something else to do.” At the time, she was talking about plans to start a TV series about art and science.

His shows were always elegant events, drawing stars from the glittering worlds of film, music and television who wanted to bask in Westwood’s reflection of glory. But still he spoke out against consumerism and conspicuous consumption, even urging people not to buy expensive, beautifully tailored clothes from him.

“I just tell people to stop buying clothes,” she said. “Why not protect this gift of life while we have it? I don’t take the attitude that destruction is inevitable. Some of us would like to stop that and help people survive.”

Westwood was a self-taught designer with no formal training in fashion. He told Marie Claire magazine that he learned to make his own clothes as a teenager by following patterns. When he wanted to sell 1950s-style clothing in his first store, he found old clothes in the markets and took them apart to understand the cut and construction.

Vivienne Westwood Red Label - Backstage - LFW SS16
Vivienne Westwood before the Vivienne Westwood Red Label show during London Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2016/17 on 20 September 2015.Mike Marsland/WireImage file

“It wasn’t a very efficient way to make clothes, but it was a great way to develop my technique,” ​​he told the magazine.

Westwood was born in the village of Glossop, Derbyshire, on April 8, 1941. His family moved to London in 1957, and he attended art school for one term.

She met McLaren in the 1960s while working as an elementary school teacher after separating from her first husband, Derek Westwood. She and McLaren opened a small shop on King’s Road in Chelsea in 1971, the end of the “Swinging London” era ushered in by the Beatles and Rolling Stones.

The shop changed its name and focus several times, operating as “SEX” (Westwood and McLaren were fined in 1975 for “indecent display” 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, leader of the Pretenders and a former worker at the couple’s store.

Westwood moved into a new type of design with his “Pirates” collection, shown at his first show in 1981. That breakthrough is credited with taking Westwood in a more traditional direction, showing his interest in incorporating historic British designs into clothing. contemporary.

It was also an important step in an ongoing rapprochement between Westwood and the fashion world. The rebel eventually became one of his most celebrated stars, known for reinterpreting opulent gowns of the past and often finding inspiration in 18th-century paintings.

But she still found ways to surprise: her Statue of Liberty corset in 1987 is remembered as the start of the “underwear as outerwear” trend.

He eventually branched out into a variety of business ventures, including an alliance with Italian designer Giorgio Armani, and developed his Red Label ready-to-wear line, his more exclusive Gold Label line, a menswear collection, and fragrances called Boudoir and Libertine. He opened Westwood stores in New York, Hong Kong, Milan, and several other major cities.