Written by Jess Miller
Designer, activist, icon, mother of punk and exhibitionist- with Vivienne Westwood’s passing the world acknowledges the immense void she has left behind, with decades in the fashion business there is yet to be another like her. However, her legacy is not limited to exquisite designs, it is tied hand in hand with her rebellious attitude (or can we say ‘punkitude’) to campaigning for various global matters. Brought to attention thanks to t-shirts, dresses, trousers etc printed with highly charged imagery as well as a full volume microphone to carry every word, Westwood truly rocked the world. To put it simply, Vivienne Westwood was in her own Venn diagram circle- there was no overlap, there was no one quite like her.
Westwood claimed the heroic title ‘Mother of Punk’, given to her by doting supporters who believed in a society of freedom; of anti-authoritarianism. Unfortunately, during the 1970’s England was a repressed country and full of economic and socio-political issues, not quite a haven for freedom seekers. Within the divisions of civilisation and culture the Punk Movement was formed, wearing the customary tartan uniform, punctuated with safety pins, rips and splatters of paint, now a cliché of the ‘Westwood army’. Their leader, a rebel – whose now distinguished logo ‘the orb’ represents monarchical power and justice. This emblem was not taken lightly with emphasis on the importance of justice. Westwood was an ardent activist, and the adornment of garments was heightened with totally aimed phrases, reflective of the issues which were prominent throughout the years. Runway models armed with rallying-cries written across clothes ready to provoke and challenge the observer and those at the heart of the problem.
Whilst Westwood was initialling deemed ‘uncommercial’ during her early years, these goading garments were sold by the thousands and worn proudly around the world. A style previously reserved for those who follow the movement, it was brought into the mainstream. Each collection co-ordinated with a political manifesto which was current; climate change, nuclear disarmament, civil rights, terrorism, and capitalism to name a few. Westwood recognised the responsibility she had in a position of power to advertise her ideologies whilst they grew and changed with the times, igniting and advancing a fight in people. As a result of each design, politics was no longer exclusively a conversation for politicians, Westwood widened the audience and crossed borders between professions.
In the last couple of years, sustainability in fashion has become a hot topic. Notwithstanding Westwood’s career, she continued to be a campaigner and fashion and the climate crisis were the next subject on the list. Not only was the phrase “Buy less, choose well, make it last” written on a plaque outside the Vivienne Westwood Parisian store, but printed across shirts and t-shirts as well as on banners held by runway models along the catwalk. By recognising the effects of the fashion business and seeing the overexpansion of the company, Westwood had an enormous influence throughout the fashion industry.
Now she is no longer with us, and a movement have lost their leader, but crucially all of her designs and with them her manifestos remain. And though there might not be another like her, and there is a Venn diagram circle somewhere with just her name in it, there is still a lot society can learn from Vivienne Westwood.