- The Origin
- First Boutique
- The Sex Pistols
- Career Shifting
- The Six Best Fashion Designers on Earth
- New Stylistic Path
- New Lines and Store Openings
- Success in Foreign Market
- Vivienne Returns to the Runway
- Entering the Asian Market
- Current Situation
Vivienne Westwood is a famous British fashion designer who was born in 1941. She changed the history of fashion as the “muse of punk.” Born in Glossop, Derbyshire, she was the daughter of textile factory workers Dora and Gordon Swire who named her Vivienne Isabel in homage to the actress Vivien Leigh.
She was educated at the Glossop Grammar School. Prophetic, for her future career, was the school’s motto: “Virtus, veritas, libertas.” She studied silversmithing at Harrow School of Art, then later became a primary school teacher while also making her own jewelry. After a short marriage to Derek Westwood she began a relationship with the musician Malcolm McLaren, and they had a son in 1968, Joseph Ferdinand, now the owner of a fetish shop in London’s Soho.
In 1970, the couple opened a shop called Let it Rock at 430 King’s Road. A forerunner of the cultural contaminations that were to come, the store sold 1950s records and outfits inspired by that period. In 1972, in the same store with a new sign, reading Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die, she presented her first collection, dedicated to the Rockers. Among her first celebrity clients was Ringo Starr for whom the fashion designer invented the costumes for the movie That’ll Be the Day.Decisive to her work and her success, in any case, was certainly her ties with McLaren. With him, in 1974, she introduced leather outfits, rubber shirts, chains, and T-shirts with pornographic images.
The setting for the succession of provocations is the usual boutique on King’s Road, appropriately renamed “Sex.” The police raided the place, in an attempt to shut down the den scandals, but behind the now shuttered windows of the shop, even more-revolutionary fermentations were bubbling away. Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm were getting ready to launch the band the Sex Pistols. At the time the band was an aesthetic and musical icon of the punk movement, which abhorred the hypocrisy of the time and which fought it, lambasting the codes of behavior of the establishment.
For the occasion, the shop changed its name to Seditionaries: a play of words between seduction and sedition. As Giannino Malossi noted in his book Liberi Tutti (Mondadori) “The punks knew that clothing can be a weapon of subversion, just as books and manifestoes can be.” And Seditionaries supplied, in terms of fashions and poses, the manual of the new anarchists who were playing at London’s Roxy, piercing their cheeks with safety pins and combing and gelling their hair into menacing crests. Also, the adoption of traditional elements of Scottish design such as tartan fabric were essential to the punk movement.
The couple of “lost souls” reached the culmination of their greatest provocation and popularity in 1977, when the Sex Pistols, in tribute to the Silver Jubilee celebrating the 25th year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, recorded on the Virgin label, God Save the Queen. It was not exactly pleasant or pleasing. The song called Her Majesty a “moron” immediately shot to the top of the hit parades and become an anthem of the punk movement, now a worldwide phenomenon.
From the rebellion of the 1970s to the hedonism of the dawning 1980s, Vivienne Westwood, along with McLaren, together designed their official collections, and were showed in Paris and London. Their first official collection together was the Pirates collection, which launched the New Romantic look, and also witnessing the entry of Vivienne’s clothing into the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Perhaps it was the decline of the punk rebellion that inspired the new name of World’s End for her London shop and her move onto the runways of France. In 1982, after Mary Quant, she became the first English designer to be accepted into the calendar of French défilés. And even the fields of collaboration of “Lady Viv” changed, shifting from the world of music to the world of art.
In 1983, she presented her Witches collection, which were created with close ties to the graffiti artist Keith Haring, corresponding to the end of her relationship with McLaren. Some thought that this transition also marked the end of the genius of Vivienne Westwood.
In 1985, the fashion designer’s farewell to the French runways only seemed to confirm this view. But she continued to enjoy success with her Crini Collection that year. The collection included crinoline minis, incredibly high stacks, and footwear, according to its creator, that was “designed to place feminine beauty high on a pedestal.” And it was on those shoes, now called platforms, that the top model Naomi Campbell fell victim to an accident during a runway presentation, tripping over her dizzyingly high heels, she fell in a disastrous spread-eagle collapse.
The increasingly dizzying ups and downs of the fashion designer, however, did nothing to undercut her prestige and her high consideration in the world of fashion. For her and for her fashion shows, always featuring a title as if there were pieces of conceptual theater, all the most famous top models were willing to work free of charge. While John Fairchild, publisher of WWD, in his 1989 book, Chic Savages, included Westwood as the only woman among the six best fashion designers on earth.
She began to present in London again in 1987 with her collection Harris Tweed, and from 1989 to 1991 the fashion designer agreed to lecture at the Academy of the Applied Arts in Vienna, as a professor in fashion. During this experience she developed her ideas for a menswear collection which she presented in a preview showing in 1990 in Florence, during Pitti Uomo.
Her reputation by this point was so great that even Queen Elizabeth, forgiving the insult of God Save the Queen, awarded the fashion designer in 1992 with the honor of naming her a member of the Order of the British Empire. But it was at the end of that ceremony, seemingly a marker of a truce with the establishment, that Vivienne flipped up her skirt for the cameras of the photographers, showing the world that she does not wear underwear. “Never,” she added publicly, doubling the dose of provocation.
And yet the Harris Tweed collection seems to have marked a new stylistic path, a nostaligic love of the past without the slightest avant-garde sneer or snicker, taking refuge in the period clothing of the eighteenth century. Vivienne Westwood exclaimed,
“As soon as I realized that the establishment requires opposition,” she later explained, “I began to ignore them and focused my attention on more important things, like history.”
In fact, to the simpering notes Vivaldi, the former muse of punk brought out into the spotlight crinolines and white wigs. This did not prevent her from experimenting with new fields of contamination, however. In 1993, she was the first big fashion designer to design a Swatch wristwatch: the pop Putti with baroque angels, followed the next year by the Orb. This latter creation featured the fashion designer’s logo, which summarizes her philosophy: a royal orb, symbol of tradition, surrounded by a ring of Saturn, emblem of the passage of time and the new creations that incessantly emerge from the past.
And, in keeping with these concepts, in 1996, when, at the invitation of Nicola Trussardi, La Westwood launched her first menswear collection at the former Motta factory in Milan. The logo of the line, Man, was written in characters shaped like dolmens. Although she remained loyal “to the quality of stylistic research in opposition to the quantity of items manufactured.”
At the end of the 1990s, she reorganized and articulated her production. She added in 1997 to the Gold Label, which was produced in England, with tailoring techniques and presented in Paris. The second line, the Red Label, she presented in London but manufactured in Italy, along with the Man Label, which was produced by the Italiana Staff International. That same year Anglomania made its debut, which was men’s and women’s streetwear manufactured and distributed by the Italian company G.T.R.
In conjunction with the rapidly proliferating number of products, she opened single-label boutiques around the world: from Tokyo to London (Conduit Street). Also Westwood launched a women’s perfume in London in 1998, and in 2002 a men’s scent would join it. Among the many marketing strategies, Westwood artistic and provocative genius continued to prove its fertility.
While in 1996 the fashion designer took part in the exhibition New Persona at the Stazione Leopolda in the context of the Biennale della Moda di Firenze. Then, in 1998 she returned to the front pages of newspapers throughout the world, because one of her models was caught sniffing on the runway. “It was just snuff, tobacco,” she claimed. “Something less legal,” theorized the media. Always and in any case a gesture somewhere between “tradition and transgression,” representative of this interpreter of highly discipline anarchy. Or, if you will, of the discipline of anarchy, however we choose to phrase it.
An exhibition on the most delirious styles of British fashion could not fail to include items from Vivienne Westwood’s production, and indeed, the creations of the London fashion designer were present in the exhibit “London Fashions,” held by the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. From October 16, 2001 to January 12, 2002 there were one hundred original creations on view, from the work of Mary Quant to Stella McCartney, based on the idea that “London is the only city on earth capable of creating street styles that wind up on runways.”
At the end of November 2002 the griffe was present during Moscow’s fashion week at the “Rossia State Central Concert Hall,” along with the names of Emilio Pucci, Julien MacDonald, and Emanuel Ungaro. For Christmas 2002, a collection of apparel and accessories for dogs was inaugurated, following in the footsteps of fashion designers who were the first to think of satisfying the needs of the four-footed “clientele”, Hermès, Gucci and Burberry.
In 2003 the brand experienced one step backward in the United States and two steps forward in Paris and the Far East, with the closure of the New York flagship in the neighborhood of SoHo and the announcement of openings in Asia and in the French capital.
For the Austrian Wolford group, she designed a line of body outfits with laces, knitwear, and jackets.
In 2006 Vivienne Westwood was appointed with the title of Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, one of the most important rewards in the United Kingdom. In the same year, the brand significantly expanded into the Soviet market, through the opening of several new stores in the cities of Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Kiev and Baku. The following year, in honour of her 35 years of career, Palazzo Reale in Milan dedicated an exhibition to her, presented by the Italian art critic Vittorio Sgarbi.
After 10 years of absence, in 2008, the eccentric Vivienne Westwood made her come back on the London fashion scene showcasing the Fall/Winter Red Label collection, whose aim was to draw the attention on the climate changes that were affecting the planet, in order to push fashion to become more and more sustainable and accessible.
Later on, the fashion house decided to take on a partnership with the American label, Lee Jeans, to produce a mini-collection called “Anglomania.” The aim of this collection was to give a new sense to denim and therefore to open its first U.S. store in the heart of the Melrose shopping district in L.A. At the same time, the Vivienne Westwood Red Label line launched a new eco-friendly collection called “CHOICE”, whose products included T-shirts, skirts, dresses and jackets made with organic fabrics through a particular manufacturing technique where style could meet sustainability.
In 2011 Vivienne Westwood had the honour to open Shanghai Fashion Week as the icon of European fashion. In the same year she produced a T-shirts line exclusively created for charity purposes, which she called “Red Nose”, in honour of the red nose printed on the iconic pictures.
The following year, after seeing a raise in revenues, the brand was ready to conquer the Asian market, in particular China’s. That was the same year when the eccentric Vivienne sided with Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, in order for him to obtain political asylum from Ecuador Embassy.
The 2013 collections were inspired by the Middle Ages, more precisely by Alessandro Magno’s achievements. The highlights on the runway were heavy pieces layered one on the other, wide hooded capes and metallic meshes mixed with courtesans dresses, all of which summarized a kind of contemporaneity that recalled past times.
The punk activist also re-elaborated the western theme in a new key, sending a political and eco-friendly message against the intensive animal farming, to support the Pigledge association, whose main aim is to protect pigs.
She also sided with the “No Brexit” protest, wearing a t-shirt with an ironic sentence that seeked to push youngsters to vote in order not to be subdued by older generations. One of the most important happenings in the last years took place in the London School of Economics where Vivienne Westwood gave a lecture on a very sensitive subject that she always tried to stress through her collections, that is the protection of the environment.
In 2016, Vivienne Westwood appointed her husband, who has been by her side for the last 25 years, to the main line of her brand which will be called Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood. Also, through December 2016 to February 2017 the Art K11 Foundation curated the exhibition “Get a Life”, which is dedicated to the “Woman Who Co-Created Punk” and will take place in Shanghai.
To this day the activist-designer is one of the 10 most paid designers in the world, boasting a $96 million dollar capital and she continues to keep on growing in the market by opening new stores and launching new capsule collections, like the “ready-to-buy” of the main line.