Death of Vivienne Westwood, “the empress of punk” who became a great lady of fashion

She was both the “empress of punk” and the star designer of British fashion: known for her eccentric creations, Vivienne Westwood, died Thursday after more than fifty years of fashion as a political platform.

Vivienne Westwood died today, peacefully surrounded by her family in Clapham, south London. The world needs people like Vivienne to turn things around for the better.“, said her high fashion brand on Twitter. In a statement quoted by the PA agency, her husband and creative partner Andreas Kronthaler added: “We worked until the end and she left me a lot to go on. Thank you darling“.

March 2022 in Paris: at the end of her label’s fashion show, the 81-year-old designer takes to the podium to greet the public. Exit the long red mane, here is the gray hair, tied in an elegant bun. Slender silhouette, the designer is perched on impressive wedge shoes. The one who agitated — and even shocked — the hushed world of fashion is still there, true to herself.

However, in 2016, she gave up the artistic direction of her label to her husband Andreas Kronthaler, an Austrian 25 years her junior. Change, yes, but in the continuity of what the brand was Westwood: a rebellious, transgressive and committed label. “Defending ideas makes me happy“, she told her friend Ian Kelly, co-author with her of a biography published in 2014.

Born Vivienne Swire – Westwood is the name of her first husband with whom she will remain four years – on April 8, 1941 in a small village in the county of Derbyshire (central England), she is the eldest of a family modest of three children. She left her native region at the age of 17 for London where she studied fashion. His meeting with Malcolm McLaren, the future manager of the Sex Pistols, changes his life.

Driven by the same desire to break with the generation “Peace and Love“, the couple started making clothes and opened a shop on King’s Road in 1970. Porn T-shirts, SM outfits, stiletto heels or vinyl tights made up the outfits that Vivienne Westwood wore in front of dumbfounded passers-by. success is there. Their proximity to the “Sex Pistols“, whose tube “God save the Queen“is a worldwide success, anchors the couple in the punk universe. It was during this period that she designed her famous T-shirt bearing the face of Queen Elizabeth.

In 1981, she organized her first fashion show in London, which she named “Pirates“. If she will, over the years, move away from BDSM outfits (bondage, domination, submission and sado-masochism), she will never betray her punk spirit. “What I do today is still punk. It’s always about crying out against injustice and making people think even if it’s uncomfortable. I will always remain punk in this sense“, she had confided to Ian Kelly.

Always irreverent, as in 1992 when she was photographed leaving Buckingham Palace without underwear. The designer had just been made an Officer of the British Empire (OBE) by the Queen and showed off her private parts as she twirled her skirt. But above all, Vivienne Westwood remains an ultra-politicized fashion designer. Convictions that she defended on her podiums. At the center of his fights, his commitment to the environment. A pioneer, in 2008 she called on the fashion industry to take climate change into account and urged consumers not to constantly buy clothes, even if her detractors pointed out her contradictions in this area.

His other big fight was the defense of Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, arrested in 2019 after spending more than seven years as a refugee in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. The same year, she denounced during one of her parades “government corruption and the death of justice“. A year later, she appeared in a giant cage in front of a London court to protest against her extradition.