This photograph (right side) was taken at the exit from Buckingham Palace, where Vivienne Westwood was invited to present the Order of Merit for the Motherland from the hands of Her Majesty in 1992. The audience was expecting a “punk-style exit” from the unpredictable “vanguard queen.” But, to the disappointment of the press, she appeared on time, not only that, outwardly meeting the requirements of a boring protocol for official high-profile visits: a skirt covering her knees, gloves, a hat … And already leaving the palace she deftly waved her skirt, demonstrating to dozens of stunned photographers that she was “in her spirit” and all this time – she was not wearing underwear (Vermorel, 1996).
She grew up in a small British village (V&A, 2020), in a poor family, but the girl decided to turn the “flaw” into her main advantage. It was amazing courage for a teenager to go against the foundations, despite the provincial surroundings, redrawing the old things on herself with such an original vision of her style, which completely did not fit with the fashion of that time and made people point their finger at her. But point in perplexity, not sparing or mocking. There wasn’t even money for a graduation gown for school, so she appeared … in a dress of fresh flowers.
But then the boring life of a simple school teacher began. Vivienne married Derek Westwood, the owner of a dance school who gave her son Ben and a sonorous surname. At some point, his business was burned out, they were living in poverty, without a way to cope with the constant, chronic lack of money. Quarrels and accusations began – the family broke up. To survive, Westwood was forced to move to one of her brothers in London.
She tried to somehow diversify this grey, hopeless life. For example, to continue education – and entered the art school in the history department.
This became the key decision in her life, that changed everything. Vivienne was 30 years old.
At the same school, Malcolm McLaren studied (V&A, 2020) , becoming her best friend, a beloved man and business partner in one person – for the next 15 years. McLaren was fond of avant-garde ideas and knew how to “make money.” And he liked Vivienne herself and her style. From him, she gave birth to a second son. Today, he is Joseph Corré, creator and owner of the lingerie brand Agent Provocateur. And the eldest son, Ben Westwood, is a famous erotic photographer.
McLaren gradually gained popularity in youth communities, as he had the image of an intellectual anarchist (in the 1960s, informal subcultures had great social weight in England, they influenced society, fashion and politics).
Many sought to be an “informal,” which they tried to reflect in appearance. The youth style of that time – “hippies”, with its love for everyone and flowers – categorically did not fit such people, but there was no alternative.
McLaren and Westwood decided to quench this peculiar “style hunger” of their informal environment. Gradually, the movement of punks began to take distinct forms, thanks in large part to the store that they opened in 1971. At first, it was “Too fast to live, too young to die”, then it was renamed to “Sex” (V&A, 2020), and then to “Rebel” (now it is “End of the world” and the local clock hands go there in the opposite direction). Subsequently, the shop became the real centre of London punk parties.
The store had rubber curtains, wallpaper from porn magazines, indecent graffiti and a crazy assortment, BDSM accessories and sex shop paraphernalia, and sold music that was banned on the radio. It offered everything that was needed to rebel against the classics and decency of the youth’s parents. Prostitutes, musicians, ordinary people, and celebrities came to it – the most motley audience (Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist, 2018).
And McLaren gradually became the ideologist of punk: developed it’s aesthetics, style, music. Over time, he became the manager of the unsuccessful music group The Strand, regular shop visitors – future Sex Pistols. Westwood was supposed to “shape” the nascent creation: to come up with an appropriate image for all this. She decided to beat her beloved and forgotten brutal films of the postwar decade: leather jackets, tight trousers, checkered jackets and diluted them with mesh and torn T-shirts with provocative inscriptions, collars, bicycle chains and police caps. On this basis, the couple developed a style – for both, the store and for the “Sex Pistols” tour (Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist, 2018).
The most scandalous PR move of McLaren and Westwood of that time was a parody of the anthem and a T-shirt with the image of the queen.
In the year celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Queen’s accession to the throne, Sex Pistols released the single “God Save The Queen” – a parody of the UK anthem composed by McLaren – with a text offensive to Her Majesty.
And on its cover and their T-shirts – made by Vivienne Westwood – there was a portrait of a monarch with a safety pin threaded on her lip (Jean S. Clarke, 2016). The song was banned for performance in public places and on the radio, but the single became mega-popular, and Westwood has since stuck forever with the title “Queen of Punk Fashion”.
Her thing was, of course, punk deconstructivism: we will destroy the old world to the ground, and then we will turn it inside out and sew it in our way. Vivienne tearing off sleeves from T-shirts, cutting seams and stitching them “out”, tied on the back, painted and torn, decorated with pins and bones, laying out slogans from them … and then sold it in her store. The theme of customising it continues, one way or another, until now.
By the end of the 1970s, McLaren and Westwood became rich and unquestioned fashion authorities, and “punk” invented by them became a universally recognised style. Vivienne’s style suddenly turned out to be mainstream. Nobody looked at her puzzled anymore, suddenly for herself, she became “one of the crowd”, no different from those who bought from her store. Punk was no longer shocking, it became common for London, and Vivienne was always obsessed with the spirit of controversy. She was already used to being at the forefront of fashion, besides, she wanted world recognition and change. And their paths with McLaren already diverged. Westwood decided to conquer the high podium, for which it was necessary to radically change the style of her work (V&A, 2020).
She loved Dumas, she liked the clothes of the time he described and decided to go from this end. She studied historical clothing in books; in the pictures; at the V&A – with its best collection of historical clothing in the world; bought in antique shops, ripped open; tried to adapt the patterns to the rhythms of modern life. In the 1980s, she registered the rights to the Vivienne Westwood brand and started with the Three Musketeers collection (a tribute to her favourite book), but she is not shown anywhere. She became the second English woman (after Mary Quant, who patented the miniskirt), who conquered Paris. And the first recognised (unlike Mary with her plain cut) “master” of the English fashion “haute couture”. Not all of her first collections were commercially successful – but they helped her to make herself known. In 1981, organically continuing the themes started in the first, Vivienne Westwood presented “The Pirates” collection (V&A, 2020a), the third collection was called “The Savage» – Indian motifs played a large role in it.
Then she shows “Nostalgia of Mud” and opens a second store in London with the same name (Westwood, 2014). Outside it was decorated with a geographical map, and inside it was stylised as an archaeological site, the earthen floor and voodoo figures made a special impression. Then – some more sensational collections, including “Witches” – voluminous double-breasted coats and jacquard sweaters – the last joint work with McLaren. By the end of the 1980s, the style of the Dynasty series reigned throughout the world — men’s jackets with broad shoulders; Vivienne introduces the “Mini-Crini”: short, wide crinolines and corsets, and then “Harris Tweed” (V&A, 2020), an ode to the English tailor: traditional fabrics and a new-look at classic styles.
The unique, complex cut she developed gave her, upstart without special education, the right to be a professor at the Higher School of Applied Arts in Vienna, where she first met her next husband — Andreas Kronthaler. She speaks of the creative component of their marriage: “Andreas is the only one I know in fashion who is capable of brilliant solutions. His ideas inside my collections look like I surpassed myself. After all, my head is a little tired. And in his head, there are still many undeveloped territories” (Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist, 2018). She was twice the “Designer of the Year”, and in 2007 she was awarded the prize for a significant contribution to fashion design at the British Fashion Awards – but “she was late for the delivery because she was in the toilet at that time”.
But, “sex” which appeared at that time in Vivienne Westwood collections, is still tough, aggressive and pornographic. Explicitly originating from early punk period. To wear things from Westwood earlier, it was necessary to rise above the usual, ordinary, to have a bright personality. The new elegance from Vivienne Westwood is the same punk and fetish but combined with sophisticated femininity and sexuality. And of course, replicas of Victorian ladies’ wardrobe items: camisoles, corsets, crinolines, prints in the form of heraldic roses. Another of the brand features – tucks and seams are often not hidden but located outside. Do not forget about deconstructivism and asymmetry – things always look dressed or buttoned up “wrong”, skirts look up or down, pants are baggy, with bubbling knees, pockets seem to be drawn out.
She is still a “rebel” – each collection directly shouts about some issue: fights for the rights of stray dogs, forgotten political prisoners, demands to remove Gordon Brown, protests against fur, against the obsession with anti-terrorism methods, etc. etc.
“I was the first person to have a punk rock hairstyle.”
— Vivienne Westwood (Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist, 2018)