Vivienne Westwood

4 Oct

By Alana Laverty


She’s known for being unconventional in her designs and outspoken as a designer. Her punk attitude is recognised worldwide and is more alive now than it was in the movement’s Seventies prime.

Vivienne Isabel Swire was born in Glossop, Derbyshire on April 8th 1941. Her father was a cobbler. Her mother worked at a local cotton mill. Together they tried very hard to make ends meet. Westwood had a humble upbringing.

When she was 17 they moved to a small town in Middlesex. There, she worked in a local factory and eventually enrolled at a teacher training school.‘’I lived in a part of the country that had grown up in the Industrial Revolution,’’ she once said. ‘’I didn’t know about art galleries, I’d never seen an art book, never been to the theatre’’.

In the early 1960s she met and married Derek Westwood. They had a son, Ben, and she embarked on work as a teacher. Unfortunately that marriage dissolved. From there she met Malcolm McLaren, art student and future manager of the Sex Pistols. With McLaren she had her second son, Joseph.

Around this time she was experimenting with design and had been making jewelry on the side. Through McLaren she was introduced to a new world of creative freedom and the power art had on the political landscape of England and the rest of the world. ‘’I latched onto Malcolm as somebody who opened doors for me…He seemed to know everything I needed at the time’’.

In 1971 Westwood began designing clothes. McLaren opened a shop, ‘Let It Rock’, and filled it with Westwood’s designs. In 1974 the shop was renamed ‘Sex’. Its name continued to change five more times. This shop proved to be an important fashion centre for the punk movement.

McLaren then became manager of the Sex Pistols. Westwood dressed the band in her designs.

There was something about her love for the Union Jack flag, tea stains and safety pins that the cult punk fashion followers adored.

In 1981 she showed her first collection in London named ‘Pirate’. Her frilly shirts and lacy outfits were a massive hit.

She won British Designer of the Year in 1990 and 1991.


Vivienne Westwood Red Label S/S14

In 1998 she won the Queen’s Export  Award.

January 2003, she controversially sent male models down the catwalk wearing fake breasts.

In 2007 she was awarded the gong for outstanding Achievement in Fashion Design.

Westwood’s son Joseph (Joe Corre) is the founder of British luxury lingerie brand Agent Provocateur. Her other son Ben is a photographer.

Her arts manifesto book, Opus, sells for £1400 per copy. Described as offering an unprecedented insight into Vivienne Westwood, her philosophy on life and her stunning designs, this personal project is limited to just 900 copies.


2008 saw Pamela Anderson, long-time close friend of the designers, signing a six figure deal to appear the face of Vivienne Westwood.


Westwood ventured into and made her mark on the world of stationary and interior design in 2010.

In 2011 Vivienne Westwood and her photographer went to Africa to work on her 2011-12 Ethical Fashion Africa collection. She enlists women to produce items for her ranges in return for a fair wage. ”This project gives people control over their lives,” she said. ”Charity doesn’t give control, it does the opposite, it makes people dependent”.

She is a very dedicated activist. 2011 saw Westwood joining Occupy London anti-capitalist protesters outside St Paul’s cathedral. She has often spoke of her concerns for climate change.

She dedicated her spring/summer12 menswear collection to the 2012 Olympics.

Westwood credits London and its thriving culture scene as her biggest inspiration in a film made by the Tate Britain’s ‘This Is Britain’ campaign. “The great thing about London for me is the culture,” the designer said in the film. Cutting edge but classic, her collections are unflinchingly rooted in her interests and beliefs, whether it is human rights or classical fiction.

In 2012 Westwood triggered controversy when she created a T-shirt in support of Julian Assange. The T-shirts were given to her guests to wear front row at her spring/summer 2013 show. “I’m a big supporter of Julian Assange,” Westwood told Reuters.


In January 2013 she helped rebrand the English National Ballet with a new campaign that shows the ballet dancers wearing her creations. “It’s a dream come true to be able to collaborate with someone of such stature,” said Tamara Rojo, the English National Ballet’s artistic director. “Her designs capture the creativity and ambition of our dancers who, in turn, add drama and movement to the clothes.”


Westwood also teamed with the Vienna State Ballet and created costumes for them.


Coupled with Westwood’s unconventional style sense, is an outspokenness and daring that demonstrates a certain level of fearlessness about her and her work. In one famous incident she impersonated Margaret Thatcher on the cover of British Tatler magazine. To do so, she wore a suit Thatcher had ordered but not yet received, an act that made Thatcher irate. ”Years ago when she was in power, I impersonated Margaret Thatcher… the suit I wore had been ordered by Margaret Thatcher from Aquascutum, which she then cancelled. Margaret Thatcher was a hypocrite”.


Still, Westwood’s influence is hard to deny. Twice she has been named British designer of the year and was awarded the O.B.E. (Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) in 1992.

For more than 30 years, even after she had long made her fortune and fame, Westwood lived in the same small South London apartment, paying just $400 a month for the home and riding her bike to her studio in Battersea.

In 1993, ten years after Westwood and Mclaren split, Westwood married for a second time, to her assistant, Andreas Kronthaler, who is 25 years her junior. Today, Kronthaler is her design partner. The couple resides in South London.




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