vivienne westwood

Westwood, Vivienne

Vivienne Westwood: the punk fashion icon

Vivienne Westwood
Vivienne Westwood


  1. The Origin
  2. First Boutique
  3. The Sex Pistols
  4. Career Shifting
  5. The Six Best Fashion Designers on Earth
  6. New Stylistic Path
  7. New Lines and Store Openings
  8. Exhibitions
  9. Success in Foreign Market
  10. Vivienne Returns to the Runway
  11. Entering the Asian Market
  12. Sustainability
  13. Andreas Kronthaler for Westwood
  14. The Vivienne Foundation

The Origin

Vivienne Westwood, born the eighth of april 1941, is a famous British fashion designer who changed the history of fashion as the “muse of punk.” She grew up in Glossop, Derbyshire, and was the daughter of textile factory workers Dora and Gordon Swire. They named her Vivienne Isabel in homage to the actress Vivien Leigh.

Vivienne Westwood in 1970s
The iconic fashion designer in the 1970s

The fashion designer was educated at the Glossop Grammar School. Prophetic, for her future career, was the school’s motto: “Virtus, veritas, libertas.” Later, she studied silversmithing at Harrow School of Art. And while marking her own jewelry, she became a primary school teacher. After a short marriage to Derek Westwood, Vivienne began a relationship with the musician Malcolm McLaren. They had a son in 1968, Joseph Ferdinand, now the owner of a fetish shop in London’s Soho.

First Boutique

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.  Two years later, in the same store with a new sign – 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. In any case, decisive to her work and success was certainly her ties with McLaren. With him, in 1974, she introduced leather outfits, rubber shirts, chains, and T-shirts with pornographic images.

The Sex Pistols

Vivienne Westwood's Shop "Sex" in London 1976. Photographed by Sheila Rock
“Sex” shop in London, 1976. Photographed by Sheila Rock

The succession of provocations took place in the same King’s Road boutique, renamed “Sex”. Despite the police break-ins in the shop, revolutionary ferments continued to bubble up behind the now closed shop windows. Moreover, Vivienne and Malcolm were getting ready to launch the band the Sex Pistols. At that time, the band was an aesthetic and musical icon of the punk movement. It 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.”  The shop supplied, in terms of fashions and poses, the manual of the new anarchists who were playing at London’s Roxy. In fact, they pierced 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.

Vivienne Westwood Wear a God Save the Queen Slogan T-shirt Worn by Malcolm McClaren
“Wear a God Save the Queen” Slogan T-shirt Worn by Malcolm McClaren

In 1977, the couple of “lost souls” reached the culmination of their greatest provocation and popularity when The Sex Pistols recorded on the Virgin label, God Save the Queen.  It was a tribute to the Silver Jubilee celebrating the 25th year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. When the song called Her Majesty a “moron”, it immediately shot to the top of the hit parades and become an anthem of the punk movement, now a worldwide phenomenon.

Career Shifting

From the rebellion of the 1970s to the hedonism of the dawning 1980s, Vivienne Westwood, along with McLaren, designed their official collections, showed in Paris and London.  Specifically, their first one was Pirates collection, which launched the New Romantic look. Also, this line witnessed Vivienne’s clothes entering the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Vivienne Westwood Pirate Collection
Vivienne Westwood’s Pirate Collection

It is thought that the decline of the punk rebellion was the inspiration for her London shop new name World’s End and her move onto the French runaways. After Mary Quant, in 1982, 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.

The Witches collection was presented in 1983 and 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.

Vivienne Westwood Witches Collection
Vivienne Westwood Witches Collection

Two years later, the fashion designer’s farewell to the French runways only seemed to confirm this view. However, Westwood continued to enjoy success with her Crini Collection that year. The collection included crinoline minis, incredibly high stacks, and footwear 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 Six Best Fashion Designers On Earth

Despite the fashion designer’s dizzying ups and downs, her prestige in the fashion world was never in question. As evidence of this, all the most famous supermodels were willing to work free of charge for her and for her fashion shows, always featuring a title as if they were pieces of conceptual theatre. Moreover, John Fairchild, editor of WWD, in his 1989 book Chic Savages, included Westwood as the only woman among the six best designers on earth.

Westwood started showing in London again in 1987 with her Harris Tweed collection. Then, from 1989 to 1991, she 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 which she presented in a preview showing in 1990 at Pitti Uomo in Florence.

Vivienne Westwood Fall/Winter 1987

For her great reputation, Queen Elizabeth awarded the designer in 1992 with the honour of naming her a member of the Order of the British Empire. The God Save the Queen insult was forgiven. However, at the end of the ceremony, Vivienne flipped up her skirt for the photographers’ cameras. At the sign of truce with the establishment, “Never”, she added publicly, doubling the dose of provocation.

New Stylistic Path

Vivienne Westwood Pirates Collection
Vivienne Westwood’s Pirates Collection

Yet the Harris Tweed collection seems to have marked a new stylistic path, a nostalgic love of the past by taking refuge in 18th century period clothing. 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. However, this did not prevent her from experimenting with new fields of contamination. 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.”

New Lines and Store Openings

At the end of the 1990s, Vivienne Westwood 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, was 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.


Later, 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. After two years, 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”.

Success in Foreign Market

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. Therefore, the closure of the New York flagship in the SoHo district was followed by the announcement of openings in Asia and the French capital.

For the Austrian Wolford group, she designed a line of body outfits with laces, knitwear, and jackets.

Vivienne Westwood Fall/Winter 2006
Vivienne Westwood Fall/Winter 2006

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. During 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. In honour of her 35 years of career, Palazzo Reale in Milan dedicated an exhibition to her in 2007, presented by the Italian art critic Vittorio Sgarbi.

Vivienne Returns to The Runway

Vivienne Westwood Red Label 2008
Red Label 2008

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.

Vivienne Westwood Red Nose Tshirts
The Red Nose T-shirts

In 2011 Vivienne Westwood had the honour to open Shanghai Fashion Week as the icon of European fashion. During 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.

Entering the Asian Market

Ater seeing a raise in revenues, the following year 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.


Vivienne Westwood 2013 Fashion Show Climate Revolution
2013 Fashion Show for Climate Revolution

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.

 Andreas Kronthaler for Westwood 

Vivienne Westwood Featured in the Spring 2017 Ads
Vivienne Westwood Featured in the Spring 2017 Ads

In 2016, Vivienne Westwood appointed her husband, who has been by her side for the last 25 years, as creative director of the main line of her brand, called Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne WestwoodAlso, 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.

In 2017 there’s a light +3% increase to 46 million euros (corresponding to 40,8 million pounds). The company exponentially conquers China and USA markets, which are useful for the griffe strengthening.

Then, in 2021, an agreement until 2025 is signed with Mondottica International (the player’s client portfolio includes brands as Christian Lacroix, Pepe Jeans, Sandro, Sergio Tacchini and United Colors of Benetton), in order to design, produce and distribute Vivienne Westwood eyewear collections.

 The Vivienne Foundation

On 29th December 2022 Vivienne Westwood died in London, after an illness she decided not to reveal.

Before her death, she, her children and her granddaughter founded the Vivienne Foundation, a NPO company whose aim is to transmit her legacy. The foundation – as the woman who gave it her name – wants to create a better world and its plan will focus on the main themes of the fashion designer’s activism: halt the climate change, stop war, defend human rights and protest capitalism.

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