Vivienne Westwood - fashion icon and passionate activist

Environmental issues, human rights, climate change - fashion designer Vivienne Westwood has a strong opinion. A look at the blunt activist actions of the British woman

Vivine Westwood
Image source & copyright by Vivienne Westwood

Author: Elisabeth Klokar

Vivienne Westwood does not correspond to any of the common, dazzling ones Fashion-Expectations. It is maladjusted, honest, provocative and contradicting itself. At almost 80 years of age, she still runs her own company. She designs each of her collections herself and is still committed to the Climate Protection and human rights. One of her well-known quotes is: "Buy less, choose well, make it last!".

There is Vivienne, the fashion designer, Vivienne, the activist and Vivienne, the person - we show a biographical cross-section.

Related topics: Sustainable luxury brands pioneering positive change

Who is this grand dame of punk?

The oldest of three children, Vivienne Isabel Swire was born in a small English town in 1941. She comes from a modest background and initially worked as a primary school teacher in London in the 60s. Previously she studied fashion at the Harrow Art School for one semester. But left them with the idea that they could never be successful in a creative profession. Still, she was already bursting with energy at that time, just didn't know how to implement it. After the divorce from Derek Westwood, she met her partner Malcolm McLaren, with whom she had been together for almost twenty years.

No less influenced by this relationship with Malcolm McLaren, who later became the manager of the Sex Pistols, Westwood started tailoring again and developed his own, self-taught style. At that time the punk subculture was spreading in England - and Vivienne Westwood was in the middle of it. For her designs, she founded her first shop on King's Road in 1971, which was more an artist's studio than a boutique. Its name also changed over the years with every new collection: “Let it rock at paradise garden” to “Too fast to live, too young to die”, simply “Sex” and “Seditionaries”.

Punk ideology with a “do it yourself” character

However, she discovered her initial inspirations in the retro charm of the fifties. She separated old ready-to-wear pieces and teddy boy suits into their individual parts, deconstructed and modified them, copied cuts and then sewed them together again. Fashion, art, music - at first the borders became blurred. Westwood's clothing was random and, according to the punk ideology, "do it yourself". Printed with sayings and motifs, provided with latex, zippers, chains, rivets and safety pins, provoked her fashion more and more and found favor with bohemians, outsiders and activists. "I didn't consider myself a fashion designer at the time. We looked for (...) motives for the rebellion to show the establishment. The result was punk."

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Start of a new direction with Vivienne Westwood's pirate collection

Westwood finally presented its first professional catwalk collection in the fall / winter of 1981 with the title "Pirates". Previously, she changed the boutique name that still exists today to "World's End". At the same time, she said goodbye to punk with "Pirates", just when he became mainstream. With the "finger exercise", as she explained the star phase to the star in an interview, she was concerned with a kind of subversive provocation: "I wanted to find out to what extent you can change the situation by attacking the system."

But she quickly realized that you couldn't change anything with blanket phrases printed on T-shirts. "This does not shock the establishment, on the contrary, it still feeds it," she added in the interview. In this way, the pirate collection marks the beginning of a new direction in Westwood's fashion, which still shapes it today. Evocations of the 18th and 19th centuries combined with ideas from literature and art. In the documentary "Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist", implemented by the British director Lorna Tuck, she explains that everything she designs must have character.

Vivienne Westwood fashion icon and activist

At Westwood, fashion history meets the unusual: tartan checks, tweed, latex, corsages and courtly skirts are combined in their designs, far from any fashion dictates and detached from rules or labels. As a designer, she “wants to influence people's thinking”. Why? Today only what the propaganda industry puts in front of the people is consumed. It is precisely for this reason that the designer is always politically active and regularly launches campaigns. Be it for human rights, sustainability or environmental protection; often paired with her shows, which she likes to use as a stage for her tough, unvarnished statements. Here is a cross-section:

1. The "Ecotricity" autumn / winter 2017/2018 fashion show was about renewable energies and about calling on other luxury labels to switch from fossil fuels to green energy.

2. The show for the spring / summer 2016/17 collection turned into a protest march: the models marched on the catwalk, holding posters with statements such as "Austerity is a crime" and "Fracking is a crime" in their hands.

3. In spring / summer 2014, writing on T-shirts, such as “Climate”, drew attention to climate change. In the same year she designed the “Save the Arctic” logo - a heart-shaped globe - for the Greenpeace campaign.

4. Sign for climate protection: In 2011, the fashion designer donated one million pounds (1,2 million euros) to the British environmental organization “Cool Earth” to stop deforestation in primeval forests.

The luxury label Vivienne Westwood is considered a pioneer in sustainable fashion

This is proven, among other things, by the fact that they have not used real fur since 2007 or their influence on other designers. In cooperation with the Mayor of London and the British Fashion Council, as well as several British companies such as Belstaff or Marks & Spencer, are following Westwood's example and are switching to climate-neutral energies, for example.

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Elizabeth Klokar

Text: Elisabeth Klokar

Elisabeth is an author and freelance journalist. She studied art history in Graz, Art & Communication and Moden & Styles and Fine Arts at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna at Central Saint Martins College, University of the Arts London. For more than ten years she has been writing about modern and contemporary art, fashion and architecture for a wide variety of print and online media. 

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