Vivienne Westwood - fashion icon and passionate activist

Environmental issues, human rights, climate change - fashion designer Vivienne Westwood has a strong opinion. Here's an insight into her blunt actions

Vivine Westwood
Image source & copyright by Vivienne Westwood

Author: Elisabeth Klokar

Vivienne Westwood does not meet any of the common, dazzling fashion expectations. She is non-conformist, honest, provocative and contradictory. At almost XNUMX years old, she still runs her own company. She designs each of her collections herself and is still committed to climate protection and human rights. One of her famous quotes is: "Buy less, choose well, make it last!".

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

Who is this grand dame of punk? 

As the oldest of three children, Vivienne Isabel Swire was born in a small English town in XNUMX. She comes from a modest background and initially worked as a primary school teacher in London in the XNUMXs. Previously, she studied fashion at the Harrow Art School for one semester. However, she left the school, thinking she would never become successful in a creative profession. Still, she was already bursting with energy at that time, just didn't know how to implement it. After she divorced her former husband Derek Westwood, she met her partner Malcolm McLaren, with whom she has been together for almost twenty years now.

Inspired by her relationship with Malcolm McLaren, who later became the manager of the Sex Pistols, Westwood started tailoring again and developed her 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 XNUMX, which was more an artist's studio than a boutique. The name continuously 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

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, her fashion was more and more provoking and found favor with bohemians, outsiders and activists. "I didn't consider myself a fashion designer at the time. We looked for (...) motives for rebellion to question establishment. The result was punk."

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

Westwood finally presented her first professional catwalk collection in the fall/winter of XNUMX with the title "Pirates". Previously, she changed the boutique name which is still ongoing today to "World's End". At the same time, she said goodbye to punk, as it was just starting to become mainstream. With the "finger exercise", as she explained 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 unite in their designs far from any fashion dictation and detached from rules or labels. As a designer, "she wants to influence people's thinking". Why? Today they only consume what the propaganda industry does to people. For this very reason The designer is always committed to politics and regularly starts 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:

XNUMX. Her fall/winter XNUMX/XNUMX Fashion show "Ecotricity" was about renewable energies and about asking other luxury labels to switch from fossil fuels to green energy.

XNUMX. The show for the spring/summer collection XNUMX/XNUMX became a protest march: The models marched on the catwalk, holding posters with statements like "Austerity is a crime" and "Fracking is a crime" in their hands.

XNUMX. In spring and summer XNUMX, she made t-shirts with prints, presenting statements such as "Climate", thus drawing attention to climate change. In the same year, she designed the "Save the Arctic" logo - a heart-shaped globe for a Greenpeace campaign.

4. Signs for climate protection: In 2011, the fashion designer donated £ 1,2m to the UK environmental organization Cool Earth to stop deforestation in the jungle.

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

This is demonstrated, among other things, by the fact that real fur has been abandoned since XNUMX and other designers are getting inspired by her approach. In cooperation with the Mayor of London and the British Fashion Council, several British companies such as Belstaff or Marks & Spencer, follow Westwood's example and switch to climate-neutral energies, for example.


Always informed about the latest lifestyle trends, architecture, design & interior, as well as current technologies around sustainability.

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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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