Vivienne Westwood Leaves a Lasting Legacy Behind

Nathan Perera, Staff Writer

Following a generation-defining career in the global fashion scene, Dame Vivienne Westwood, known as the mother of punk and British fashion, died Dec. 29, 2022 at the age of 81. The fashion designer was pivotal in the direction of London’s punk movement and British high fashion, using innovative runway collections to inspire political activism during her five-decade-long career.  

Westwood first entered the fashion scene with her husband, Malcolm McLaren, manager of the 70s punk band the Sex Pistols. As the band’s stylist, Westwood spearheaded the growing punk counterculture in London with her radical, unconventional designs adorned with torn fabrics, razor-sharp spikes, and immodest, provocative slogans.  

Together with McLlaren she opened up a King’s Road boutique, selling risqué and oftentimes ostentatious clothing that contrasted with the conservative views of British society. Her refusal to adhere to the norm pushed punk fashion into the global spotlight. 

Soon into the 1980s, Westwood shifted her focus to the glamourous world of haute couture, debuting her first collection, “Pirates,” in 1981, drawing attention with its thematic tie to 17th and 18th century Romanticism with oversized tops and Buccaneer trousers. Following “Pirates,” Westwood split with McLaren and started her eponymous label, and her success within the decade skyrocketed her into becoming one of Britain’s most treasured designers.

1993’s “AngloMania” is arguably her career-defining collection, taking conventional British clothing and adding Westwood’s personal flair in its “punky” tartan fabrics and flamboyant silhouettes. 

After several successful runway collections and being given the title of Dame by Queen Elizabeth II, Westwood pursued active protest regarding climate issues, bridging the gap between fashion and political activism. In 2016’s Spring/Summer show for “Vivienne Westwood Red Label,” models closed the runway holding signs labeled, “fracking is a crime,” “austerity is a crime,” and “climate revolution,” drawing much-needed attention to the climate crisis. 

Her influence reaches far and wide — from her embrace of punk style to redefining British fashion, Westwood’s boundary-pushing artistry still echoes in modern fashion. Portrait corsets, which have been associated with Westwood for decades, regained popularity in the fashion world alongside the menswear resurgence of the pearl necklace, another Westwood staple. Celebrities such as Zendaya and Olivia Rodrigo walked red carpets in Vivienne Westwood, further solidifying her impact on the fashion scene.

“Dame Vivienne Westwood was an extraordinary talent: an innovative and influential designer, and an iconoclast who pursued every belief and passion with a rare fervor,” said Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue. 

Though glittering pearl necklaces and sophisticated corsets may be the image of Vivienne Westwood today, beneath the brand is an influential designer, fashion icon, and non-conformist whose efforts in influencing punk and British fashion will forever be respected.