Fashion designer Dame Vivienne Westwood dies aged 81

Dame Vivienne Westwood has died at the age of 81.

The pioneering fashion designer made a name for herself on the fashion scene in the 1970s, with her androgynous designs, slogan t-shirts and irreverent attitude towards the establishment.

Dame Vivienne died on Thursday “peacefully, and surrounded by her family in Clapham, south London”, her representatives said.

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In a statement, her husband and creative partner Andreas Kronthaler said: “I will continue with Vivienne in my heart.

“We have been working until the end and she has given me plenty of things to get on with. Thank you darling.”

The statement from her representatives added: “Vivienne continued to do the things she loved, up until the last moment, designing, working on her art, writing her book, and changing the world for the better.

“She led an amazing life. Her innovation and impact over the last 60 years has been immense and will continue into the future.”

It also said that The Vivienne Foundation, a not-for-profit company founded by Dame Vivienne, her sons and grand-daughter in late 2022, will launch next year to “honour, protect and continue the legacy of Vivienne’s life, design and activism”.

Dame Vivienne, who was born in Cheshire in 1941, is largely accepted as being responsible for bringing punk and new wave fashion into the mainstream with her eccentric creations.

Her designs were regularly worn by high-profile individuals including Dita Von Teese who wore a purple Westwood wedding gown to marry Marilyn Manson, and Princess Eugenie who wore three Westwood designs for various elements of the wedding of William and Kate Middleton.

Dame Vivienne’s designs also featured in the 2008 film adaptation of Sex And The City, starring Sarah Jessica Parker as Carrie Bradshaw.

In addition to her work as a designer, Dame Vivienne was vocal in her support of a number of social and political initiatives including campaigning for the release of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is fighting to avoid being sent to the US to face charges under the Espionage Act.

Julian Assange extradition case
Dame Vivienne Westwood is suspended in a 10ft high bird cage outside the Old Bailey in London to protest against the extradition of Julian Assange (Victoria Jones/PA)

In July 2020, Dame Vivienne sounded a warning over an Assange “stitch-up” while dressed in canary yellow in a giant bird cage.

Dame Vivienne led a colourful band of protesters chanting “Free Julian Assange” outside the Old Bailey in central London.

Suspended inside the cage, she said: “Don’t extradite Assange – it’s a stitch-up.”

During London Fashion Week in 2012, she appeared on the catwalk herself, wrapped in a banner bearing the words “climate revolution” and bearing lots of flesh underneath.

Speaking ahead of her show, which came on the third day of London Fashion Week, she said that showing her clothes simply provided her with a platform to talk about climate change.

Vivienne Westwood Catwalk – London Fashion Week
Vivienne Westwood pictured with models at the finale of her Spring/Summer Red Label 2012 show at London Fashion Week (Katie Collins/PA)

“It’s my job and it gives me an excuse,” she said.

“Before we’ve had class war, we’ve had rich against poor, do you know what the division is now? It’s idiots against eco-warriors. That’s it.”

That same year, attending a reception at St James’s Palace to launch a new exhibition of British menswear at an event hosted by the then Prince of Wales, Dame Vivienne said a great part of her respect for the Royal Family was due to Charles.

She said: “I am a very big fan of the Queen, I think she is marvellous and everybody else is coming round to that opinion.

“But I think a great part of my respect for the royals is based on Prince Charles – he has done much better things for the country than any English politician.”

As the self-styled queen of punk, she always injected controversy into the fashion industry with her risque creations.

The designer was largely responsible for anti-establishment punk fashion and became known for her subversive and eccentric take on traditional British style.

She and Malcolm McLaren, one-time manager of punk band the Sex Pistols, opened a shop called Let It Rock – also known as Sex – in the early 1970s where she began selling her outrageous outfits.

The punk style included bondage gear, safety pins, razor blades, bicycle or lavatory chains and spiked dog collars.

The style icon caused a stir in 1992 when she collected her OBE from the Queen minus her underwear and twirled round in the courtyard to reveal all.

In 2006 when she was made a Dame, she opted again not to wear knickers and went to Buckingham Palace wearing a pair of silver horns.

Vivienne Westwood – OBE –  Buckingham Palace, London
Dame Vivienne Westwood wore no knickers at Buckingham Palace (Martin Keene/PA)

Describing her outfit on the day – a black cap perched on the back of vibrant orange hair and a black dress with campaign badges and the tiny horns on her head – she said it showed her as an urban guerilla and a Che Guevara figure.

She explained: “I’m supposed to be a bit like a Che Guevara – an urban guerilla, with my cap, this kind of jungle net and a badge for my Active Resistance to Propaganda campaign.”

Some of her best-known creations include the Mini Crini, bustle-skirts, bondage trousers and 12-inch platform shoes, the type which famously tripped up supermodel Naomi Campbell.

She developed the idea of underwear as outerwear – and Madonna’s legendary conical bra worn on her Blonde Ambition tour, designed by Jean Paul Gaultier, would probably never have happened if not for Westwood.

She also transformed the corset from a symbol of female repression to one of power and sexual freedom.

After becoming a primary school teacher, she quit her job to become a seamstress of punk fashion and opened her shop on Chelsea’s Kings Road with her then partner McLaren.

The Sex Pistols wore the shop’s clothes to their first gig and Westwood’s first runway show was presented at Olympia in London in March 1981.