In a statement on Twitter, her fashion house said Westwood died “peacefully and surrounded” by her family in Clapham, south London.
Her husband and creative partner, Andreas Kronthaler, said: “I will continue with Vivienne in my heart.”
“We worked to the end and she gave me many things to keep going,” he added.
Break the rules
Vivienne Westwood was an anarchic idealist who transformed UK fashion forever.
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She was an aspiring revolutionary, driven by her hatred of corruption and injustice in the world, and desperate for what she saw as the indolent passivity of youth.
Westwood was the birthplace of punk, conquered high fashion and built a global empire.
He invented the New Romantics movement, paraded model Naomi Campbell down the runway with a traffic cone, and appeared sans underwear to meet Queen Elizabeth II.
For Westwood, fashion was a weapon. Sure, he knew that clothes made people sexy. But his goal was to change the rules, destroy conventions and create a better world.
Vivienne Isabel Swire was born on April 8, 1941 in the town of Tintwhistle, Derbyshire, England as the eldest of three children.
Her parents were of the working class and encouraged her to take up trades, which she enthusiastically did. But they were deeply baffled by her daughter’s addiction to her reading and once paid her to destroy her library card.
As a child, she had an enviable self-confidence, believing herself to be an outstanding craftswoman. “Honestly,” she once said, “at the age of 5 I could have made a pair of shoes.”
His family moved to North London in 1958. Westwood dabbled in goldsmithing at the local art school but dropped out after just one semester.
She might be confident, but she didn’t think a working-class girl like her could make a living like that.
She graduated as an elementary school teacher, then married Derek Westwood, a handsome young man who worked as a factory apprentice by day and a flamboyant Mod by night.
Westwood made her wedding dress, as well as the jewelry she wore. A year later, she gave birth to their son.
The meeting that changed everything
Then a chance encounter changed everything. Her brother Gordon introduced her to a 19-year-old classmate from his art studies at their flat in Harrow, north west London.
Her hair was red and her face was white with talcum powder. His name was Malcolm McLaren: self-proclaimed genius and godfather of punk.
Thus began one of the greatest creative partnerships in recent UK history.
They moved into a small flat in Clapham, had a child and launched a cultural revolution that shook and sometimes frightened the world.
McLaren was impossible. His mother was a prostitute, so he was raised by an eccentric grandmother, who lived by the motto “to be bad is to be good and to be good is just boring”.
He was a peacock who wanted to amaze with his brilliance, offending the older generation, and who loathed and despised everyone except himself.
He took six days off to visit Westwood in the hospital after his son was born, refused to be called a dad, and threatened to place the boy in an orphans’ home when asked to help support him.
Westwood retired to a caravan in Wales; him eating wild greens while he revolutionized London and married an art student.
But his attraction could with everything. The designer’s childhood was happy, but also a cultural wilderness.
Creatively, McLaren has been a revival for her; introducing her to art and music and helping her transform “from a doll to an elegant and confident woman”.
Westwood picked up on the relationship, it flourished artistically and ignored the abuse.
fashion and punk
Then came the Sex Pistols in the 70s.
McLaren embraced them as a blow against the hippy movement it hated. Westwood has opened a shop on London’s Kings Road, inspired by the aesthetic made famous by the Pistols. All of that went punk.
He called the shop Let It Rock (let it rock), then changed the name to Too Fast To Live, Too Young To Die (too fast to live, too young to die).
He finally called it SEX: the huge pink sign above the door meant only the brave enter.
Inside, the staff were intimidating. The clothes, of course, looked like nothing. He was radical and individualistic.
It was both anthropology and style. The bondage pants and swastika jackets were, she explained, “sex translated into fashion becoming a fetish.”
He was, he declared, “the very embodiment of the assumption of the immortality of youth”.
His parents hated Malcolm McLaren; but they gave her the money to start her own business and loyally offered to help her while she stocked the shelves with studs, chains and nipple zips.
Westwood’s rubber robe, spiky hair, stiletto heels and pornographic shirt literally wowed. She was enjoying herself, feeling like a “princess from another planet”.
McLaren would later boast that he was a “trickster” who turned popular culture into nothing more than a convenient marketing gimmick.
For Westwood, the move went deeper; seeing it as a youthful insurrection against the corruption of the old world order.
Punk, he sincerely believed, was more than a fad. The movement was political; the goal was revolution.
The clothes and music were supposed to channel anger and bring about change.
But young people simply ignored global injustice, stuck pins in their noses and danced to the music.
Disappointment and recovery
The couple was accused of sedition, but the revolution never happened. Westwood was disappointed and eventually moved on.
She took her subversive ideas and took the catwalks of London and Paris by storm.
Working alone with a small sewing machine at home, Westwood attached the pieces using her own body as a template.
Intellectually inspired by Canadian art historian Gary Ness, she studied the history of fashion, reworked it and challenged the world of high fashion.
Westwood once threatened to walk out of a BBC interview when the audience wouldn’t stop laughing.
Even the Pistols teased her, accusing her of abandoning punk and making “costumes” for high society.
It wasn’t easy; sometimes it was close to failure. But the fashion world loved her.
Eventually, he managed to make a fortune. One of his shows in Paris was over in the time it takes to boil an egg, but he saw clothes worth more than a million pounds.
When Carrie Bradshaw’s Sex and the City character wanted a wedding dress, she turned to Westwood, which had grown into a major global brand.
In 1989, the influential publication Women’s Wear Daily named her one of the six greatest designers of the 20th century; she is the only woman, together with Armani, Lagerfeld and Saint Laurent.
This did not mean that he had given up on the revolution.
Get involved for various causes
Deeply political, Westwood’s art had a purpose.
Their clothing subverted the fashion that had historically enslaved women. She made T-shirts emblazoned with profane political slogans and sold them at a high price.
Westwood passionately loathed British politicians and launched a lifelong crusade to promote individual freedom, rid the world of nuclear weapons and fight the threat of climate change.
She has supported numerous causes, donating hundreds of thousands of pounds to the Green Party and becoming a regular visitor to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
He even parked a white tank outside former Prime Minister David Cameron’s home during an anti-fracking protest.
When Queen Elizabeth II awarded him the Order of the British Empire in 1992, Westwood appeared sans underwear.
If Her Majesty wasn’t amused, she didn’t show it, and Westwood returned to the palace a few years later. The legendary rebel was called Lady.
She remarried, this time to an Austrian fashion student half her age. Andreas Kronthaler was calm and supportive and they formed a new creative partnership.
Westwood’s favorite quote was from Aldous Huxley: “Orthodoxy,” he said, “is the grave of intelligence.”
The shop that opened on the Kings Road is still in business.
Now called Worlds End, it sells archival designs and slogan T-shirts in memory of an icon determined to wage war on conformity.
The Godmother of Punk, Empress of Global Fashion and Lady of the British Empire certainly did.
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