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January 04, 2023 3 min read

2022 was a year of loss in the fashion world and unfortunately, one more great left us just before the end of the year. Last week, legendary designer Vivienne Westwood passed away at the age of 81. Her designs influenced not only the world of fashion, but pop culture and her impact is long-lasting. Below we take a look back at the celebrated history of one of the greats.

A Punk Rock Beginning

Westwood is perhaps best known for her punk-fashion aesthetics that challenged the norm and pushed envelopes. Yet, she wore many hats in a career that spanned decades. Vivienne’s first entry into design occurred when she opened a boutique in 1971 with Malcolm McLaren, the manager of the Sex Pistols. There she sold her designs, which were also worn by the Sex Pistols and the New York Dolls on stage - often ripped and held together with safety pins - and her designs became associated with the punk rock scene. Westwood’s “God Save the Queen” design, emblazoned on a t-shirt, essentially became the symbol of the punk rock movement.

Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren

From Rock to Runway

In 1981, Westwood held her first fashion show dubbed “Pirates,” which showed her love of art and history, an ongoing inspiration in her collections. Throughout the 1980s and 90s, Westwood’s career expanded with many twists and turns. She split from McLaren and explored playing with fabrics, such as tweed, taffeta and mohair, all while nodding to the past in her designs, from Grecian drapery to 18th century inspirations. In the 1990s, Westwood explained her inspiration to WWD saying, “Where would I get ideas if they didn’t come from the past? We have no hope unless we refer to the past.” In many ways, her love of the past is what kept her current and relevant to younger generations over time. She learned from history but was unafraid to experiment and explore.

One of the materials Westwood explored throughout her career was latex. Her use of latex goes back to her early days as a boutique owner in the 70s, and her use of latex was featured in catalogs for her store and was featured on the punk music scene. But her work with latex didn’t end there and was featured in runway collections as recently as 2021.

Vivienne Westwood The Rubber Maid's Dress Latex

Vivienne Westwood Latex

Vivienne Westwood Latex RunwayA Designer’s Designer

Throughout the next two decades, Westwood continued to expand her designs and achieve success. She was named the Fashion Designer of the Year back to back in 1990 and 1991 by the British Fashion Council and in 1992 was OBE from Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace. 

Her designs continued to explore her love of history while exploring her mischievous side, including a 1995 Marie Antoinette-inspired collection that featured Kate Moss eating an ice cream cone while strutting down the runway topless.  

Vivienne Westwood Runway Show Kate Moss

In 2008, Westwood was introduced to a new generation thanks to theSex and the City movie. She designed Carrie’s over-the-top wedding dress for the wedding-that-wasn’t to Mr. Big, culminating in some legendary on-screen moments for Westwood’s designs. 

Vivienne Westwood Sex and the City

In more recent years, she continued to stay relevant, collaborating with younger generations of designers, such as Ricardo Tisci for Burberry in 2018, and mentoring others, including Jean Paul Gaultier and Christian LaCroix. She also remained an activist, and to celebrate her 80th birthday, she shared a short film in which she sings a rewritten version of “Without You” from the musicalMy Fair Lady, warning about both environmental and social issues. Vivienne was dubbed the “designer of designers” and was considered one of the six greatest designers of the world, a legend that will surely remain and won’t be matched. 

Photos ℅ WWD and Vogue

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