Acclaimed fashion designer Vivienne Westwood has died at age 81. A statement released through her official social media accounts announced her death, sharing that she was surrounded by family at her Clapham, South London home.
“The world needs people like Vivienne to make a change for the better,” the statement continued. The post concluded with a quote from Westwood that read: “Tao spiritual system. There was never more need for the Tao today. Tao gives you a feeling that you belong to the cosmos and gives purpose to your life; it gives you such a sense of identity and strength to know you’re living the life you can live and therefore ought to be living: make full use of your character and full use of your life on earth.”
Westwood is survived by two children and her husband Andreas Kronthaler, a design partner and creative director, with whom she often created fashion collections with.
Westwood played a pivotal role in popularizing punk style in the mainstream fashion industry beginning in the seventies, most notably alongside Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren, with whom she co-founded the boutique SEX.
The opening of the boutique pushed alternative styles defined by leather jackets, strappy bondage fashion, and the t-shirt as a closet staple-piece to the forefront through a cultural combination of music and clothing in Britain.
“The Sex Pistols would owe their fashion style to Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood, first and for foremost,” Josh McConnell, founder of Straight to Hell apparel, told Rolling Stone earlier this year. “I would say if it wasn’t for those two designers and the Sex store on the King’s Road, then there would be no Sex Pistols. I’d say Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren invented the British look of punk.”
Westwood and McLaren drew inspiration from late fifties early sixties greaser culture in America, leaning on themes popularized by the likes of Marlon Brando to revive the boundary-pushing style a decade later with innovative glam rock-flare. What followed was era after era of provocateur fashion. For Westwood, regardless of whether it was positive or negative, attention was the prize for taking risks. Whether that meant branding outlandish phrases across t-shirts, holding shirts together with safety pins, or plastering naked cowboys and Mickey Mouse porn across fabrics, she would do whatever it took.
“We began to think about sexual clothing and materials like rubber to make people much more aware of their bodies and to flaunt themselves, in order to confront people,” Westwood said in a 1977 edition of the Liverpool-based punk fanzine No Future. “A young girl wearing a rubber skirt to the office is going to produce a reaction. That’s what clothes are all about and that’s why people wear them.”
As fashion shifted and transformed over the following decades, so did Westwood. In fact, she was often leading. “Vivienne’s effect on other designers has been rather like a laxative,” London designer Jasper Conran once observed in a 1978 documentary. “Vivienne does, and others follow.”
In the late Eighties, Westwood revisited the past once again in hopes of reinterpreting forgotten staples, this time around taking pieces from French artist François Boucher, who hailed during the seventeenth century, and printing them on eighteenth century style corsets. Her use of fashion as a means of communicating empowerment among women stuck, echoing in prevailing and recurring trends more than three decades later. In the years since, her designs have been worn by everyone from Avril Lavigne and Miley Cyrus to Doja Cat and Dua Lipa.
In a 1999 interview with the New York Times, Westwood echoed Conran’s point, boasting: “I think I’m the only one who is original. I don’t see anyone doing anything that doesn’t come from me.”