Dame Vivienne Westwood: Fetish Fashion to Red Carpet Rival 

By Abigail Quigley

It was inevitable that 2022 would refuse to leave quietly, and with the public being informed of the passing of the British Queen of Fashion, Dame Vivienne Westwood on 29th December in her South London home, this expectation proved to be true. The loss of Britain’s beloved punk legend has also meant an end to her provocative controversy, daring designs and a triumphant legacy only few attempt to achieve.  From fetishized rubberwear to becoming a well-known designer on the red carpet , it seems only fitting to reflect on Westwood’s successful career and how her SEX shop in Chelsea, which she ran between 1974-1976, grew into a global empire.

It was 1965. Between working in a primary school and selling handmade jewellery on Portobello Road, recently divorced Westwood met alternative art student, Malcom McLaren. Little did the duo know, they were about to turn London on its head and amplify the British revolution of punk; in an era where the hippie movement was sweeping the streets, Westwood and McLaren had other ideas. Let It Rock, an alternative clothing store, was birthed on King’s Road, London in 1971 with a vision to provide Teddy Boy style attire, designed by Westwood herself. The store later rebranded to the short-lived Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die store in 1973. Less than twelve months later, the twosome upped their rebellion and rebranded the boutique; this is when SEX was born. This is when the real revolution began.

Despite its controversy, with rails filled with promiscuous PVC leather, SEX was successfully sustained over the next two years by fetish fanatics and revolutionary punks alike. The subversive nonconformists took a likening to the store for the seditious nature of the designs which alluded to social taboos, anarchistic slogans and pornographic text. Customers included the likes of Johnny Rotten and Paul Cook, who, with the assistance of McLaren, would soon form protesting, punk sensations, the Sex Pistols. In 1977, Westwood’s infamous God Save the Queen tee, which unapologetically questioned the monarchy, complete with the Sex Pistols logo and lyrics, hit the newly named store, Seditionaries, which soon became recognised for the protest fashion it provided.

Vivienne Westwood, 1977. Image Credit: Elisa Leonelli / Shutterstock

The latter decades of the 20th century saw Westwood flourish from a rebellious boutique owner to a high-end fashion designer. Due to the nature of Westwood’s designs and unconventional ideas, she spent the start of these decades as an outsider compared to conservative creators. However, in 1989, Westwood was recognised for her ingenious mind and was awarded British Designer of the Year in 1990, and again in 1991. This recognition encouraged Westwood to continue to create masterpieces, including the Anglomania, Café Society and On Liberty collections in the early 90s.

Anglomania, FW 1993 RTW Collection

From famously wearing no underwear whilst receiving her well-deserved OBE to marrying her third and final husband, Andreas Kronthaler, the 90s were nothing short of a triumph for Westwood. However, it didn’t stop there and in the following years, Westwood opened flagship stores across the globe, accepted her Damehood and collaborated with a sea of celebrated designers and businesses. Westwood admirably earned her stripes and became a commended celebrity in the world of design. Westwood was also tremendously charitable, with a mindful consideration towards climate change and human rights. Politically-charged topics were raised by Westwood both on and off the runway. From raising climate concerns at the 2012 Olympics to showcasing anti-terror law tees in 2005, her campaigns highlight the unvarnished, compassionate traits of a woman who used her voice and the exposure she had to fight for the things she (and many others) believe in.

Westwood at a Climate Revolution March. Image Credit: viviennewestwood.com

Westwood was a campaigner for positive activism, a bold pioneer, a loving mother and a respected creator with a cordial soul. Through audacious designs and gutsy nerve, Westwood invented a neoteric, disruptive realm in the world of fashion, set it on fire and let London’s punk scene do the talking. Over the span of her impressive career, Westwood maintained her rebellious streak, individuality, and her clear belief that it was cool to be peculiar. This preservation of personality, despite being embroiled amongst traditionalists and superstars, proves her dedication to the art of apparel and her intention to provide people with an entitlement to express, rebel and disclose their character through their wardrobe. As Dame Vivienne Westwood said herself, ‘I design things to help people to hopefully express their personality.’ Her prodigious existence may have reached its end, but her legacy will be on people’s lips for generations to come.

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