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Punk's Demise: Vivienne Westwood Dead at 81

By Sophie Dehn

It is with great sorrow that the fashion world grieves the loss of yet another icon in the industry; Vivienne Westwood. Westwood was more than just a designer; she was an innovator. Throughout her career, she continued to incorporate conventional feminine elements with punk symbolism, and as a result, became one of the greatest British style designers.

Vivienne Isabel Swire was born on April 8, 1941, in the village of Tintwistle, Cheshire, to mother Dora, a greengrocer's assistant, and father Gordon, a sausage factory worker. Before relocating to the London neighborhood of Harrow in 1957, where her parents managed a post office, she attended Glossop Grammar School. After taking a term of a silversmithing degree at Harrow Art School (now the University of Westminster), Westwood decided she was intimidated by the art world and enrolled in a secretarial college. She eventually pursued teaching practices. She met Derek Westwood, an apprentice at the Hoover factory, at a dance in 1961. In 1962, she married him while wearing a dress of her own creation. Benjamin Westwood, their son born in 1963, was their only child together before they split up when he was only three. Westwood gave birth to her second son, Joseph Corré, in 1967 after meeting then-art student Malcolm McLaren. Her two sons grew up together in South London, where she worked as a primary school teacher.

Let It Rock, a store offering charming clothes and memorabilia from the 1950s, was established on the King's Road by Westwood and McLaren in 1971. Before dressing the 1970s punk band the Sex Pistols, they manufactured teddy boy trousers, drape jackets, and mohair sweaters there. Around the same time, they started selling slogan T-shirts with colorful text fashioned from chicken bones, trousers with front-to-back zips, and trampled-on tie-dye tops.

Over the years, the store has gone by several different names, including Too Fast to Live Too Young to Die in 1972, Sex in 1974 (when fetishist rubber gowns, nipple clamps, and spike shoes were introduced), Seditionaries in 1976, and World's End in 1979. Westwood told the Guardian, "I acquired this reputation for being a bit of a sex maniac and stuff like that, and I'm not. Sex has never been high on my list of priorities," said Jean Shrimpton. Before parting ways, Westwood and McLaren collaborated to create the enduring, New Romantic-inspired "Pirate" collection for the World's End label in 1981. That year, British Vogue featured the frill-sleeved shirts, stiff felt caps, and jacquard slacks from the collection.

After her debut Paris show in 1983, Westwood's creations were dubbed "the British answer to those of Christian Lacroix in Paris" by fashion critics, who also credited her for reviving the British fashion scene. In his book Chic Savages from 1989, Women's Wear Daily publisher John Fairchild referred to Westwood as "the Alice in Wonderland of fashion" and listed her among the top six fashion designers of the 20th century. The same year, Westwood portrayed Margaret Thatcher, the British Prime Minister, on the cover of Tatler when she was wearing a Westwood suit, she had purchased but had not yet received.

Even though Westwood has a significant place in fashion history, she has continuously advanced as a fashion historian over her seven-decade career. Her floppy pirate shirts, tartan derriere padding from the 1990s, and mini-crinis from the 1980s were all influenced by 17th-century fashion, while her Empress Josephine gowns, and numerous corsets were inspired by 18th-century clothing.
Westwood's name is also linked to some of the most iconic fashion events, such as Naomi Campbell plunging to the ground from purple python platforms on the fall 1993 runway and a nearly naked Kate Moss enjoying ice cream in a miniskirt, hat, and heels for spring 1995.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York hosted a tribute exhibition to Westwood in 2002, and the Costume Institute's "Punk: Chaos to Couture" exhibition in 2013 once more honored her punk roots. Her Seditionaries business served as the inspiration for one of the exhibition's seven galleries. Westwood won the British Fashion Council's title of British Fashion Designer of the Year in 1990, 1991, and 2006, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London presented a retrospective in 2004. For her ongoing climate change activism, she received the BFC Award for Outstanding Achievement in Fashion Design in 2007 and the Swarovski Award for Positive Change in 2018.

Throughout her time in the industry, Vivienne Westwood has pushed and broken as many boundaries and stereotypes as possible. She has forever changed the world of fashion and will always be with us in every plaid print and every punk ensemble. Westwood will always remain a part of us. Although she is no longer with us, Westwood is here each time you make the bold decision not to conform to the fashion norms. Vivienne Westwood is remembered each time you mix luxury with punk and remains present through each fashion risk you take.

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