by Phoenix Atkinson
Vivienne Westwood will always be remembered as one of the most important and iconic designers of the 20 and 21st centuries. From epitomising the sense of rebellion and anarchy of the 1970’s punk movement to codifying the fashion of the New Romantics, to, championing human rights, androgyny, and speaking openly on topics including climate change and free speech. As we acknowledge one month since the designer's passing, we take a look at her top fashion moments:
1: Let It Rock
Malcolm McLaren might always have a bad name amongst fans of the Sex Pistols, a band that has a story with more villains than a slightly muddled pantomime, but it was alongside him that Vivienne Westwood became such an icon of counterculture and rebellion. Originally called “Let It Rock” and specialising in second-hand clothes and items inspired by the mid-1950s subculture of Teddy Boys, 430 King’s Road soon became a hub for the burgeoning punk scene. After “Too Fast To Live, Too Young To Die”, where they changed to fashion inspired by the 1960’s rocker style, the shop quickly became known as “SEX”. Many customers and workers would quickly become famous in their own rights, e.g., John Lydon, who auditioned for the Sex Pistols by singing along to Alice Cooper on the shops' jukebox, Chrissie Hynde, who occasionally worked as a sales assistant, Pamela Rooke, who’s image became an iconic view of punk fashion, Adam Ant and Siouxsie Sioux.
2: Pirates (AW/81)
Vivienne Westwood’s first fashion show was an extension of the punk rock uniform she had codified in 1974. This show included frilly blouses, pirate hats, and was the originator of the New Romantic movement. Adam Ant, The Human League, and Boy George would all pick up this look, leaving it as one of the iconic styles of the 1980s. This was also where we saw androgyny coming into the mainstream. Most involved in this scene, no matter their gender, wore dark eyeliner and bright lipstick and often dressed in clothes inspired by this show. It only takes one look at the video of Prince Charming to see the influence. And only one listen to never get it out of your head.
3: Harris Tweed (AW87/88)
A new style debuted with this collection, which was inspired, in Westwood’s words, by “a little girl I saw on the tube one day. She couldn’t have been more than 14. She had a little plaited bun, a Harris Tweed jacket, and a bag with a pair of ballet shoes in it.”.
This collection felt like a parodic take on the upper class, with corsets inspired by the 18th century, the use of black velvet, and inspiration coming from the uniforms of the British Empire. Now, it is honoured by an exhibition by The Met on “Camp: Notes On Fashion”.
4: Anglomania (AW/93)
Anglomania was a historically-inspired work that involved a mix of traditional French and English sensibilities, which mixed tartan, furs, full skirts and total glam. The show itself was a celebration of decadence and a total refusal of tradition, in an ironically traditional way. Corsets yet again showed up and epitomised the theatrical femininity that became a hallmark of Westwood’s work. Anglomania will always be an iconic collection, even if we might pass on Naomi Campbell’s 9-inch Gillie heels- which are now on display in the V&A.
5: Red Label (SS/16)
Always one to combine politics and fashion, Westwood staged an outlandish “Fash Mob” on the streets of London ahead of her show. The Mob contained a mixture of models carrying placards that read various slogans such as, “Climate Revolution”, and “Austerity Is A Crime”.
David M. Bennett/Getty Images
6: We Are Motherfucker (SS/18)
This show, seemingly inspired by the growing issue of the class divide, climate change, and inflation, featured androgynous silhouettes, half-dressed models, repurposed plastic bottles, hand-painted prints and tattered jackets. Acrobatics became a common theme while the models walked, adding a sense of anarchy that called back to her work as the ‘Queen of Punk’. Playing card designs were used often, as were platform heels. The collection here feels like a call for society to make a change and stop over-producing, a cause Vivienne Westwood was incredibly passionate about throughout her life.
Tristan Fewings/Getty Images
Overall, it’s essentially impossible to sum up the impact of Vivienne Westwood's work. Even from the beginning, she was known for being prolific and incredibly important. Her work always had a meaning, and I hope that, after her death, we don’t allow her work's importance to be forgotten. This isn’t a comprehensive list of her work, because it would take a novel to examine the impact of what she did. So, thank you, Vivienne, for everything.