Vivienne Westwood, influential fashion maverick, dies at 81

LONDON (AP) — Vivienne Westwood, an influential fashion maverick who played a key role in the punk movement, died on Thursday at the age of 81.

Westwood’s eponymous fashion house announced her death on social media platforms, saying she died peacefully. A cause was not revealed.

“Vivienne continued to do the things she loved, right up to the last moment, designing, working on her art, writing her book, and changing the world for the better,” the statement read.

Westwood’s career in fashion began in the 1970s, when his radical approach to urban streetwear shocked the world. But she went on to enjoy a long career highlighted by a series of triumphant runway shows and museum exhibits.

The Westwood name became synonymous with style and attitude even as he changed focus from year to year, his range was vast and his work never predictable.

As her stature grew, she seemed to transcend fashion. The young woman who had scorned the British establishment eventually became a major figure in it, even as she kept her hair dyed that trademark bright orange hue.

Andrew Bolton, curator of The Costume Institute at New York’s Metropolitan Museum, said that Westwood and Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren, his former associates, “gave the punk movement a look, a style, and it was so radical that broke up with anything in the past.”

“The torn shirts, the safety pins, the provocative slogans,” Bolton said. “She introduced postmodernism. She was so influential since the mid ’70s. The punk movement has never dissipated, it has become part of our fashion vocabulary. It’s mainstream now.”

Westwood’s long career was filled with contradictions: she was a lifelong rebel honored multiple times by Queen Elizabeth II. She dressed like a teenager even at the age of 60 and became an outspoken supporter of the fight against climate change. planetary doom warning.

In his punk days, Westwood’s clothing was often intentionally shocking: T-shirts decorated with drawings of naked children and “bondage pants” with sadomasochistic overtones were the standard in his popular London shops. But Westwood was able to make the transition from punk to high fashion without missing a beat, keeping his career going without stooping to self-caricature.

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“She was always trying to reinvent fashion. Her work is provocative, she is transgressive. She is deeply rooted in the English tradition of pastiche, irony, and satire. She is very proud of her English character and she still passes it on,” Bolton said.

One such controversial design featured a swastika, an inverted image of Jesus Christ on the cross, and the word “Destroy.” In an autobiography written with Ian Kelly, he said that he was destined as part of a statement against politicians torturing people, quoting Augusto Pinochet from Chile. When asked if he regretted the swastika in a 2009 interview with Time magazine, Westwood said no.

“I don’t, because we were just saying to the older generation, ‘We don’t accept your values ​​or taboos, and you’re all fascists,’” she replied.

He approached his work with enthusiasm in his early years, but then seemed to tire of the clamor and buzz. After decades of design, she sometimes spoke wistfully of moving beyond fashion so she could focus on environmental issues and educational projects.

“Fashion can be so boring,” she told The Associated Press after introducing one of her new collections at a 2010 show. “I’m trying to find something else to do.”

Its shows were always the chicest of events, attracting stars from the glittering worlds of film, music and television who wanted to bask in a reflection of Westwood’s glory. But still he spoke out against consumerism and conspicuous consumption, even urging people not to buy expensive, beautifully tailored clothes from him.

“I just tell people to stop buying clothes,” she said. “Why not protect this gift of life while we have it? I don’t take the attitude that destruction is inevitable. Some of us would like to stop that and help people survive.”

Westwood’s activism spread to supporting Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, posing in a giant bird cage in 2020 to try to stop his extradition to the US. She even designed the dress Stella Moris wore when she married Assange last March in a London prison.

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Westwood was self-taught, with no formal training in fashion. She told Marie Claire magazine that she learned to make her own clothes from him as a teenager by following patterns. When she wanted to sell 1950s-style clothing in her first store, she found old clothes in the markets and took them apart to understand the cut and construction.

Westwood was born in the village of Glossop, Derbyshire, on April 8, 1941. His family moved to London in 1957, and he attended art school for one term.

She met McLaren in the 1960s while working as an elementary school teacher after separating from her first husband, Derek Westwood. she and mclaren opened a small shop in Chelsea in 1971, the end of the “Swinging London” era ushered in by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

The shop changed its name and focus several times, operating as “SEX” (Westwood and McLaren were fined in 1975 for “indecent display” there) and “World’s End” and “Seditionaries”.

Among the workers at her shop was Sex Pistols bassist Glen Matlock, who called Westwood “a unique, driven, determined and talented lady” in a statement to The Associated Press.

He said it was a privilege “to have rubbed shoulders with her in the mid-’70s in what was the birth of punk and the global waves it created that still continue to resound and resound today for the disaffected, hipsters, and savants everywhere.” the world. .”

Vivienne is gone and the world is already a less interesting place. tweeted Chrissie Hyndethe leader of the Pretenders and another former employee.

Westwood moved into a new type of design with his “Pirates” collection, shown at his first show in 1981. That breakthrough is credited with taking Westwood in a more traditional direction, showing his interest in incorporating historic British designs into clothing. contemporary.

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It was also an important step in an ongoing rapprochement between Westwood and the fashion world. The rebel eventually became one of his most celebrated stars, known for reinterpreting opulent gowns of the past and often finding inspiration in 18th-century paintings.

But she still found ways to surprise: her Statue of Liberty corset in 1987 is remembered as the start of the “underwear as outerwear” trend.

He eventually branched out into a variety of business ventures, including an alliance with Italian designer Giorgio Armani, and developed his Red Label ready-to-wear line, his more exclusive Gold Label line, a menswear collection, and fragrances called Boudoir and Libertine. He opened Westwood stores in New York, Hong Kong, Milan, and several other major cities.

She was named designer of the year by the British Fashion Council in 1990 and 1991.

Her uneasy relationship with the British establishment is perhaps best exemplified by her 1992 trip to Buckingham Palace to receive an Order of the British Empire medal: she was wearing no underwear and posed for photographers in a way that made it abundantly clear.

Apparently, the queen was not offended: Westwood was invited back to receive the even more auspicious designation of Dame Commander of the British Empire, the female equivalent of a knighthood, in 2006.

Westwood is survived by her second husband, Austrian-born designer Andreas Kronthaler who had a fashion line under his brand and two children.

The first, fashion photographer Ben Westwood, was her son with Derek Westwood. The second, Joe Corre, his son with McLaren, co-founded the exclusive Agent Provocateur lingerie line and once burned what he said was a collection of punk memorabilia worth millions: “Punk was never, ever intended to be nostalgic,” he said.

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Katz, a former correspondent for The Associated Press who died in 2020, was the lead author of this obituary. AP writer Nardos Haile contributed to this report from New York.

Gregory Katz, Associated Press