Known for her avant-garde designs and her role in the punk movement of the 1970s, she started her career as a primary school teacher before turning to fashion design.
In the early 1970s, Westwood met Malcolm McLaren, who would become her partner and manager. Together, they opened a boutique in London called “Let It Rock,” which sold rock and roll-inspired clothing. The store eventually evolved into “SEX,” which sold punk-inspired clothing and accessories. Westwood’s designs were heavily influenced by the punk movement, and she was known for using unconventional materials, such as safety pins and zippers, in her clothing.
Fashion designer Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, a long-time friend of Vivienne’s, remembers the first day he walked past the window in 1972 and walked through the door: “I was going through a great period of loneliness at the time, because I was creating clothing out of mops and moving blankets. And then I stumbled upon this store on King’s Road where everything was transgression, misappropriation, and recovery, even down to these T-shirts made from chicken bones!'”
In the 1980s, Westwood began to branch out and experiment with different styles, incorporating elements of historical dress into her designs. She was passionate about the French 18th century, especially the French revolution, Les Incroyables et Merveilleurses (a French fashion trend characterized by its dissipation and extravagance), Jean-Honoré Fragonard and François Boucher (French painters) or Rose Bertin (dressmaker to Queen Marie Antoinette and milliner).
She also began to show her collections on the runway, and gained international recognition for her work. In 1983, she was awarded the title of “British Designer of the Year” by the British Fashion Council.
Vivienne Westwood’s designs are often considered to be a combination of the traditional with the use of corset, tailor techniques, bustles or tartan and the modern with her use of bold prints, bright colors, and unconventional silhouettes. Her work has been described as “a celebration of the individual” and she is known for challenging traditional notions of beauty and femininity.
“I’ve been criticized for being anachronistic. But my way of cutting clothes, which adapts the techniques of Madeleine Vionnet or Charles Frederick Worth to mass production, has greatly influenced the way people dress.” Vivienne Westwood – M le Monde magazine in 2014
One of her most iconic designs is the Pirate collection, inspired by the 18th century, it was first shown in 1981, and was a big success. The collection is characterized by its corsets and petticoats, and it was worn by many famous figures of the time, including Boy George and Princess Diana.
Vivianne Westwood was also famous for her Punk attitude and outspoken political activism. In 1992, she was invited to Buckingham Palace to receive an OBE (Order of the British Empire) from Queen Elizabeth II. Westwood decided to wear a classical grey skirt suit to the ceremony. However, she chose not to wear any underwear underneath, and when celebrating her achievement by taking a twirl in front of the photohraphs, she inadvertently exposed herself. The incident was widely reported in the media and became a topic of much discussion and debate. Some people criticized Westwood for her lack of decorum, while others praised her for her boldness and her willingness to challenge societal norms.
Westwood was also known for her commitment to environmental and social causes. She has been a vocal advocate for climate change and has used her platform to raise awareness about the issue: “I talk all the time about climate change and these future billions of homeless people, because that’s what’s going to happen in a few generations”. She has also been involved in various charitable organizations and campaigns, including Amnesty International and the Rainforest Foundation.
In recent years, Westwood has continued to be a major figure in the fashion industry and has collaborated with a number of other designers and brands. Her designs are sold in stores around the world and she has also released a number of books and documentaries about her work.
Vivienne Westwood was a pioneering fashion designer who has had a significant impact on the industry. Known for her avant-garde designs, her commitment to environmental and social causes, her iconic Pirate collection and her contributions to the punk movement in the 1970s. Her work continues to inspire and influence designers and fashion enthusiasts around the world.