Vivienne Westwood

Aimee Scott

Designer Biography

DOI: 10.5040/9781474260428-FPA262

Dame Vivienne Westwood was born Vivienne Swire in Tintwistle, England, in 1941. After studying at Harrow Art School for just one semester, she left and trained to become an elementary school teacher. She worked as a teacher until she crossed paths with Malcolm McLaren.

McLaren helped to influence Westwood’s interest in the world of youth fashion. She began mirroring the social movements of British youth culture in her work. In 1971, she opened a boutique on London’s King’s Road with McLaren. It traded under a variety of names, including SEX, which specialized in selling bondage and fetish fashion. In 1975 they opened Seditionaries, the first punk clothing store in London, at the same location. Punk style utilized bondage and many off-the-wall items, including safety pins and razor blades. The style was further popularized among British youth when Malcolm McLaren became the manager of a band named the Sex Pistols, dressing the band in his and Westwood’s designs.

In 1981, Westwood showcased her first catwalk collection in London, a collaboration with McLaren entitled “Pirates.” Westwood’s punk-themed, anarchist style exploded onto the London fashion scene, elevating her reputation within the industry. Subsequently, Westwood and McLaren ended their relationship in 1982.

From the 1980s to 2000, Westwood’s collections have been categorized by industry insiders into different key looks. From 1988 to 1992 she shifted from punk to “the pagan years.” Collections from 1993 to 1999 have been dubbed “Anglomania,” as she explored an amalgamation between English tailoring and French ideals of design. From 2000 and into the early twenty-first century, Westwood’s collections have been described as “exploration.” These years have seen a return to her earlier, more sexual works and an experimentation with the organic nature of fabric.

Vivienne Westwood is also a well-known political activist. In 1992, she was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace.

Vivienne Westwood, Spring/Summer 1997. Photograph by Niall McInerney, Fashion Photography Archive

References and Further Reading

Find in Library Mulvagh Jane. Vivienne Westwood: An Unfashionable Life . London : Harper Collins, 1998.