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History of Vivienne Westwood: From Controversial to Icon!

By Orgesta Tolaj


22 February 2024

vivienne westwood


Vivienne Westwood is widely regarded as one of the most influential and boundary-pushing designers in the fashion industry. Her bold and innovative designs have challenged societal norms and redefined fashion throughout her illustrious career. But, have you ever wondered how an irreverent punk rock fashion designer became a fashion icon? Her journey to iconic status is a fascinating one that has captivated the fashion world for decades. Well, how did she do it?

Who Is Vivienne Westwood?

Dame Vivienne Isabel Westwood (8 April 1941 – 29 December 2022) was a British fashion designer and businesswoman. She was a key figure in the development of punk and new wave fashions, known for bringing these styles into the mainstream. Westwood began her career in 1971, designing alongside her then-partner Malcolm McLaren in London. Together, they played a significant role in defining the street culture of Punk with their shop Seditionaries. Throughout her career, Westwood continued to be a prominent and influential figure in the fashion industry, known for her bold and unconventional designs. She passed away on 29 December 2022 at the age of 81.

vivienne westwood

How Did Vivienne Westwood Get Started?

In the late 1960s, the hippie movement dominated fashion in London, but Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren were more drawn to rebellion and 1950s clothing, music, and memorabilia. In 1971, they opened a boutique called Let it Rock, where Vivienne designed Teddy Boy clothes for Malcolm. A year later, the shop rebranded as Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die, focusing on biker clothing, zips, and leather. They then began designing provocative t-shirts, leading to legal issues and another rebranding. In 1974, the shop became Sex, known for its unique offerings and slogan ‘rubberwear for the office.’

vivienne westwood

When the Sex Pistols’ song ‘God Save the Queen’ topped the charts but was banned by the BBC, the shop transformed into Seditionaries, associated with the emerging Punk Rock movement. Disillusioned by punk’s mainstream adoption, Vivienne refitted the shop in 1980 as Worlds End, which remains its name today. The original interior was restored in 2017, maintaining the aesthetic designed by Vivienne and Malcolm 40 years ago. The shop’s basement was expanded over time, absorbing a former restaurant. Despite these changes, the shop’s aesthetic has remained unchanged since its opening.

What Came Next for Vivienne Westwood?

Following the decline of the punk movement, Vivienne Westwood continued to be a trailblazer in the fashion industry. She consistently stayed ahead of the curve, not only influencing fashion but often dictating it. After her involvement with the Sex Pistols, Westwood took a new direction with her Pirate collection, featuring frilly shirts and other distinctive attire. Her influential styles have included the mini-crini in the 1980s and the frayed tulle and tweed suit in the 1990s. She even demonstrated that it is possible to make a subversive statement with underwear. English designer Jasper Conran once likened Westwood’s effect on other designers to a laxative, stating, “Vivienne does, and others follow.”


Vivienne Westwood and Media: NANA

Vivienne Westwood’s influence extends beyond traditional fashion circles, including her presence within pop culture and media. Specifically, her designs have gained prominence in the Japanese manga series “NANA” created by Ai Yazawa. This series features characters styled in Westwood’s iconic looks, such as the Armour Ring, Love Jacket, Three Row Bas Relief Choker, and Yasmine Bag. The Orb Lighter, a symbolic item in the story, pays homage to Westwood’s signature orb logo.

© Ai Yazawa

The connection between Westwood and “NANA” highlights the shared themes of rebellion, music, and nontraditional beauty standards. The revitalization of Westwood’s image in contemporary media, particularly via platforms like TikTok, can be attributed to the resurgence of interest in her designs due to the popularity of “NANA” and the broader appeal of the Y2K and retro aesthetic.

vivienne westwood
© Karl Moore / Unsplash

Are you a fan of Vivienne Westwood and her designs?

You might also want to read: The Entire History of the Infamous Hermès Birkin Bag

Orgesta Tolaj

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