Vivienne Westwood

Fashion design's Grande Dame continues to chart her own course

Designer Profile

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Vivienne Westwood has been pushing boundaries - and buttons - for over 40 years. Not one to make clothes merely for the sake of fashion, what lies beneath Westwood's designs is a point of view. Her clothes are a vehicle for political discussion and a medium for cultural change.

 

Vivienne Westwood on a chair

Never was this more evident than in the 1970s when Westwood went from married primary school teacher to punk protagonist. Hooking up with then boyfriend, Malcolm McLaren (he would go on to manage the Sex Pistols) Westwood melded style, sound and shock value to become one of the fiercest proponents of the movement's anarchistic, buck-the-system philosophy.

Westwood remains outspoken at an age when others choose to retire quietly. More recently, she has become an outspoken advocate of human rights and conscious consumption—no doubt a hangover from punk's anti-consumerist culture. Championing sustainability and emblazoning T-shirts with the mantra "buy less, choose well" she actively raises awareness for the environment.

 

VIVIENNE WESTWOOD AND MERINO WOOL

Her promotion of environmental awareness has made her a tireless advocate for the use of wool. Describing it as "one of the world's great natural fibres", she makes no secret of her admiration of the versatility and renewability of fleece. Westwood put this belief into action for the Autumn Winter 2012/13 season, with Merino Laine, a dedicated 12 piece capsule collection of jersey made using 100% Merino wool—albeit one with the distinctive Westwood worldview. Who else could create a knee length knit dress with built-in corset?

Not that her love of wool is anything new. "When I began as a fashion designer... I succeeded in re-introducing into fashion the idea of fine knitwear, the English twinset," Westwood points out. And Merino wool has long been a fixture in her mainline Gold, Red and Man labels.

That Westwood continues to use her avant garde work to be controversial, opinionated and thought-provoking is due in no small part to the fact that the label remains one of the last independent fashion companies - quite an achievement in an industry progressively dominated by luxury conglomerates. Without being beholden to corporate benefactors, the only voice Vivienne Westwood is compelled to listen to is her own.

 

VIVIENNE WESTWOOD: FASHION INDUSTRY RECOGNITION

 

Few in fashion can ever boast the longevity and influence of the likes of Westwood, twice named British Designer of the Year by the British Fashion Council. Fittingly, a 2004 retrospective of her work at London's Victoria and Albert Museum was the largest such exhibition of any living British designer. It went on to tour more than ten cities over five years.

Two years after the V&A debut, her majesty Queen Elizabeth II saw fit to recognise the 72 year-old's contribution to fashion, appointing Westwood as Dame Commander of the British Empire.

It wasn't the designer's first royal honour. Back in 1992, the Queen awarded the style icon an Order of the British Empire. After the ceremony, Westwood gave a celebratory twirl for photographers in the courtyard of Buckingham Palace. As her skirt lifted, the flashbulbs revealed, in true punk form, Westwood's distinct lack of underwear. There really is nothing like a dame.

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