Dame Vivienne Westwood, DBE, RDI (born Vivienne Isabel Swire on 8 April 1941) is a British fashion designer and businesswoman, largely responsible for bringing modern punk and new wave fashions into the mainstream.
Westwood was born Vivienne Isabel Swire in the village of Tintwistle, Derbyshire on 8 April 1941,the daughter of Gordon Swire and Dora Swire (née Ball), who had married two years previously, two weeks after the outbreak of World War II. At the time of Vivienne’s birth, her father was employed as a storekeeper in an aircraft factory; he had previously worked as a greengrocer.
She studied at the Harrow School of Art – University of Westminster, taking fashion and silversmithing, but she left after one term saying, “I didn’t know how a working-class girl like me could possibly make a living in the art world”. After taking up a job in a factory and studying at a teacher-training college, she became a primary school teacher. During this period, she also created her own jewellery, which she would sell at a stall on Portobello Road.
In 1961, Vivienne Swire met Derek Westwood, a Hoover factory apprentice, in Harrow.They married on 21 July 1962 and Vivienne made her own wedding dress for the ceremony. In 1963, she gave birth to a son, Benjamin Westwood.
When she met Malcolm McLaren, it signified the end of Westwood’s marriage to Derek. Westwood and McLaren moved to a council flat in Clapham. Westwood continued to teach until 1971 when Malcolm decided to open a boutique at 430 King’s Road called “Let It Rock” (later known variously as “Sex”, “Too Fast To Live Too Young To Die”, and “Seditionaries”) and now Worlds Ends, where Westwood sells her Vivienne Westwood label clothing.
Westwood created clothes which McLaren conceived, drawing inspiration from bikers, fetishists and prostitutes. During this period, McLaren became manager of the punk band Sex Pistols and subsequently the two garnered attention as the band wore Westwood and McLaren’s designs. While living in their flat in Clapham, Westwood and McLaren had a child, another son, named Joseph.
Westwood was deeply interested in the punk fashion phenomenon of the 1970s, saying “I was messianic about punk, seeing if one could put a spoke in the system in some way”.The “punk style” included BDSM fashion, bondage gear, safety pins, razor blades, bicycle or lavatory chains on clothing and spiked dog collars for jewellery, as well as outrageous make-up and hair. Essential design elements include the adoption of traditional elements of Scottish design such as tartan fabric. Amongst the more unusual elements of her style is the use of historical 17th and 18th century cloth cutting principles, and reinterpreting these in, for instance, radical cutting lines to men’s trousers. Use of these traditional elements make the overall effect of her designs more shocking.
- Westwood has five exclusively-owned shops; three in London, one in Leeds, and one in Milan.
- Franchise stores are located in Liverpool, Newcastle, Glasgow, three in Manchester and most recently, in FH Mall, Nottingham (20 March 2008), and in Blake Street, York (11 September 2008).She also has showrooms in Milan, Paris and Los Angeles.
- Her first catwalk show was presented in 1981, featuring the collaboration of Westwood and McLaren. The theme that year was Pirates.
“Sometimes you need to transport your idea to an empty landscape and then populate it with fantastic looking people.”
She dubbed the period 1981 to 1985 New romantice and 1988 -1991 “The Pagan Years” during which “Vivienne’s heroes changed from punks and ragamuffins to ‘Tatler’ girls wearing clothes that parodied the upper class.”
The period from 1993 to 1999 she called “Anglomania” and from 2000 to the present – “Exploration”.
Her Autumn/Winter 2005/06 Propaganda Collection drew inspiration from her archive, reinterpreting designs using Wolford’s exclusive knitting technology.
- Westwood has worked in close collaboration with Wolford since 2003.
- In 2006, she collaborated with Nine West, whose shoes are not designed directly by Westwood, however the Nine West brand name shares its label with Westwood.
- Westwood’s Gold Label and MAN hats are created by Prudence Millinery.
- In December 2003, she and the Wedgwood pottery company launched a series of tea sets featuring her designs.
The first major retrospective of her work was shown in 2004–5 at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra. The exhibition, created from approximately 145 complete outfits grouped into the themes from the early 1970s to the present day, was drawn from her own personal archive and the V&A’s extensive collection. The designs ranged from early punk garments to glamorous “historical” evening gowns.
In July 2011 her collections were presented at the catwalk of The Brandery fashion show in Barcelona.
- Westwood has influenced the launch of the careers of other designers into the British fashion industry. She employed the services of Patrick Cox to design shoes for her Clint Eastwood collection in 1984. The result was a prototype for nine-inch-heeled shoes like the ones worn by supermodel Naomi Campbell when she fell during a Westwood fashion show in Paris in 1993.
- Westwood’s designs were featured in the 2008 film adaptation of the television series Sex and the City.
- Westwood is widely known as a political activist.
- In April 1989 Westwood appeared on the cover of Tatler dressed as then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The cover, which bore the title “this woman was once a punk”
- In September 2005, Westwood joined forces with the British civil rights group Liberty and launched exclusive limited design T-shirts and baby wear bearing the slogan I AM NOT A TERRORIST, please don’t arrest me. The sale of the £50 T-shirts raised funds for the organisation.
- In a 2007 interview she spoke out against what she perceive as the “drug of consumerism”
- Westwood attended the première of The Age of Stupid, a film aiming to motivate the public to act against climate change. She later created a manifesto of Active Resistance to Propaganda, which deals with the pursuit of art in relation to the human predicament and climate change. In her manifesto, she “penetrates to the root of the human predicament and offers the underlying solution. We have the choice to become more cultivated and therefore more human – or by muddling along as usual we shall remain the destructive and self-destroying animal, the victim of our own cleverness.”
- Against the claim that anti-consumerism and fashion contradict each other, she said in 2007 that “I don’t feel comfortable defending my clothes. But if you’ve got the money to afford them, then buy something from me. Just don’t buy too much.”
- In January 2011, Westwood was featured in a Canadian-made television documentary called Vivienne Westwood’s London in which she takes the viewer through her favourite parts of London, including the Courtauld Institute of Art, the Wallace Collection, Whitechapel (accompanied by Sarah Stockbridge), Hampton Court, the London Symphony Orchestra, Brixton Market and Electric Avenue, and the National Gallery. Her purpose, she said, was to share her love of high culture and to impress its importance on the current generation: “I love this city and its culture. I want to encourage people to love art and believe that culture can save the world. Culture is about people’s outlook on the world and along with art, is the anchor that holds us together as a people and gives life greater meaning.”
In 1992, Westwood was awarded an OBE, which she collected from Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace.At the ceremony, Westwood was knicker-less, which was later captured by a photographer in the courtyard of Buckingham Palace. Westwood later said “I wished to show off my outfit by twirling the skirt. It did not occur to me that, as the photographers were practically on their knees, the result would be more glamorous than I expected”, and added “I have heard that the picture amused the Queen”.Westwood advanced from OBE to DBE in the 2006 New Year’s Honours List for services to fashion, and has thrice earned the award for British Designer of the Year.
Dame Vivienne Westwood is currently married to her former fashion student, Austrian-born Andreas Kronthaler. For 30 years Westwood lived in the council flat in Clapham until, in 2000, Kronthaler convinced Westwood to move into a Queen Anne style house built in 1703, which once belonged to the mother of Captain Cook.
Westwood does not watch television or read newspapers or magazines, however she is a keen gardener.
- Ben Westwood, son of Vivienne and Derek Westwood, is a photographer of erotica.
- Joseph Corré, son of Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, is the founder of lingerie brand Agent Provocateur.