Prolific designer, punk provocateur, staunch climate activist, nonconformist, and a rebel with a cause, Dame Vivienne Westwood died peacefully at the age of 81 on December 29, surrounded by family and loved ones in Clapham, South London.
Upon her death, Westwood’s namesake label issued a statement. “Vivienne continued to do the things she loved, up until the last moment, designing, working on her art, writing her book, and changing the world for the better,” her brand wrote. “She led an amazing life. Her innovation and impact over the last 60 years has been immense and will continue into the future.”
Westwood’s stance on climate change and sustainability has proven to be a priority in recent years. The legendary designer, and her sons and granddaughter have established The Vivienne Foundation, a nonprofit that will launch next year to “honor, protect and continue the legacy of Vivienne’s life, design and activism.” It’s designed on four pillars: climate change, stop war, defend human rights and protest capitalism and built to “create tangible change.”
Designing alongside her husband of over 30 years, Andreas Kronthaler, the couple have managed to preserve the unabashed rebellion, and stylish anarchy that originally put her on the map.
“I will continue with Vivienne in my heart,” Kronthaler wrote in a statement. “We have been working until the end and she has given me plenty of things to get on with. Thank you darling.”
Always known to push boundaries, politically, socially, and sartorially, Westwood’s creative edge and embrace of the unorthodox has cemented her status as the grand Dame of fashion. As the industry mourns her loss, GRAZIA USA is looking back on Westwood’s inimitable career, spanning across six decades in fashion.
The SEX Boutique
Westwood opened her boutique in 1974 with her then-partner Malcolm McLaren at 430 King’s Road, in Chelsea, London. Though it’s name changed throughout the years, it was focused on distressed designs, biker jackets, leather, zippers and unapologetic tees (most notably the “God Save the Queen” T-shirt). Westwood kicked off the sartorial vision of the British punk scene when she began dressing musician Iggy Pop and the English punk rock band, the Sex Pistols (the latter of which McLaren managed).
Catalysts of the punk movement, the Sex Pistols were integral to the anti-establishment aesthetic that took hold in the ’70s. And their image had Westwood to thank for instilling an aura of stylish anarchy that would put the group on the map.
Vivienne Westwood’s Portrait Corsets
Westwood revived the corset in 1987 with her “Stature of Liberty” bustier from the Harris Tweed collection. Transforming the garment from underwear to outerwear, Westwood adopted the corset again for her 1988 Time Machine collection, and most famously, 1990s Portrait collection, where she juxtaposed historical and traditional dress with a subversive sensuality.
The pieces featured reproduced paintings printed across the bodice – such as François Boucher’s 1745 work, Shepherd Watching a Sleeping Shepherdess, also known as Daphnis and Chloe.
The vintage finds have since been sported by the likes of Bella Hadid, FKA Twigs and more. Remaining loyal to the waist-cinching hero piece, Westwood has consistently shown corsets throughout her storied career, even as recently as the brand’s Fall/Winter 2023 collection.
In 1992, the designer twirled for photographers outside of Buckingham Palace, after receiving her prestigious OBE (Order of the British Empire) honor from Queen Elizabeth II. In typically provocative Westwood fashion, the designer forgot she went without underwear that day, flashing her privates to photographers when spinning around in her charcoal gray tailored skirt suit. It’s rumored that the Queen was humored by the moment. In 2006, Westwood was made a Dame for her services to fashion.
For Vivienne Westwood‘s Fall/Winter 1993 “Anglomania” collection, Linda Evangelista made her way down the London catwalk in one of her favorite designs she’s ever worn.
The supermodel told British Vogue, “I mean, is there more talented than Vivienne?” Sharing the secret to walking in Westwood’s famously high platforms, Evangelista said, “When you wear shoes this high, you have to make sure your core is very developed, because it’s all about your core, holding you up.” Fellow supermodel Naomi Campbell famously fell in her sky-high heels during this very runway show.
Walking the runway in head-to-toe tartan, Evangelista said, “This look served full fashion. I loved it so much, that I own the look. Top to toe. It needs to be in a museum and I’m looking for the right home for it.”
Naomi Campbell’s Runway Tumble
Naomi Campbell famously tumbled down the Vivienne Westwood catwalk during the Fall/Winter 1993 “Anglomania” runway show, wearing the impossibly high, 13-inch platform Super Elevated Ghillie Purple heels. After her ankles wobbled in the shoes, she landed on her rear and gracefully laughed it off. When Campbell interviewed Westwood in 2019, the supermodel asked the designer with a smirk, “Can I ask you something? When I fell down, were you worried?”
After Westwood assured her that she knew she was okay, the designer explained, “The reason you fell is because you had these rubber tights on and your thighs caught together, so you wiggled on the shoe.” She continued, “You’ve only got to wiggle slightly, and you’re over.” Campbell added that there’s trick to walking in Westwood’s designs – you can’t put too much weight on the heel and leaning on your tippy-toes is helpful. Campbell’s fall has since gone down in fashion history, along with Westwood’s sky-scraping Ghillie heels.
Topless Kate Moss
Kate Moss walked the Vivienne Westwood runway, sans top for the Spring/Summer 1994 collection with a powdered face, a statement hat, a micro-miniskirt and platform bubblegum pink pumps, all while eating an ice cream.
In a 2022 interview looking back on her most iconic style moments, Moss explained that she was told to lick the Magnum Ice Cream cone for her trip down the runway. “They just said, ‘Eat that while you go out with no top on,’” Moss recalled with a laugh.
Revealing that she still has the miniskirt, Moss said her model daughter, Lila Grace Moss Hack scolded her for how outrageously short the skirt really is. “That collection was so beautiful. I was very lucky, actually. I feel really lucky to have had that experience.”
Carrie Bradshaw’s Wedding Gown
A landmark fashion moment in film history, Sarah Jessica Parker donned an ivory corseted Vivienne Westwood wedding gown as Carrie Bradshaw in the first Sex and the City film in 2008. The iconic dress from the British fashion house’s Fall 2007 collection, featured a tiered skirt and a pointed bust – signatures of the designer. Parker adorned the gown with a teal feathered fascinator and cascading veil during her character’s first ceremony to Mr. Big and was recently spotted wearing the gown in the streets of New York City on set for the franchise’s spinoff series And Just Like That.
Vivienne Westwood Pearl Orb Necklaces
Vivienne Westwood’s pearl choker with her Swarovski crystal-encrusted orb charm has seen a resurgence in recent years, thanks to being dubbed the “TikTok necklace.” Its recent revival swiftly cemented the piece as a It girl accessory. Originally designed as a singular strand of pearls in 1987, Westwood upped the ante with three strands by 1990 for her famous Portrait collection. Worn on the necks of Bella Hadid, Janelle Monáe, Irina Shayk, Rihanna and Dua Lipa, there’s no question the Pearl Bas Relief Choker will go down as a forever-classic.
Always one to question the status quo, Dame Westwood has been a staunch voice speaking out against climate change and fashion’s cumbersome impact on the environment. With her fashion shows simultaneously acting as protests, her garments have a particular way of expressing the global issues nearest and dearest to Westwood’s heart. With phrases like “Buy Less” and “Buy Local” emblazoned across T-shirts, Westwood has implemented a transparent supply chain method, with garment worker safety and fair wages as priorities. Avoiding blended fibers and embracing low impact dyeing methods, the grand Dame of British fashion always made her priorities known.